Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s claims that “nobody saw this coming”, his own intelligence community and various scientists had warned that a global pandemic was a potential threat worth preparing for.
Those concerns were ignored and we now find ourselves in the midst of “the greatest global science policy failure in a generation“, according to doctor and editor of London-based peer-reviewed medical journal “The Lancet”, Richard Horton.
If the powers that be had heeded warnings from experts who were sounding the alarm about the potential for a pandemic to take hold globally, perhaps tens of thousands of lives and overwhelmed healthcare systems could have been spared.
Here are 10 scholars, researchers and scientists who predicted a global pandemic before covid-19.
Probably the most recognizable name on this list, billionaire Bill Gates has studied infectious diseases for the past two decades as part of his philanthropic work. The co-founder of tech giant Microsoft has warned about the potential for a pathogen-spread pandemic since 2015, in a TED Talk, lectures, and multiple medical journal articles, according to The Washington Post. “Covid-19 has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about,” Gates wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine.
In May 2017, U.S. Director of Intelligence Dan Coats brought to President Trump’s attention a World Bank assessment predicting that a pandemic would cost the world around 5 percent of GDP. Two years later, Coats testified that “the United States and the world will remain vulnerable to the next flu pandemic or large-scale outbreak of a contagious disease that could lead to massive rates of death and disability, severely affect the world economy, strain international resources, and increase calls on the United States for support.”
Jonathan Epstein is a veterinarian and disease ecologist at the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance in New York City. He has spent the last decade trying to catalog some of the 800,000 or so zoonotic viruses lurking in nature that can infect humans in the hopes of preventing a spillover like the one believed to have started the covid-19 outbreak. Epstein always knew that a virus had the potential to turn into a deadly pandemic, according to Grist.
Dennis Carroll, an expert on zoonotic infectious diseases and the former head of the emerging threats division of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, is another scientist who predicted the likelihood of a pandemic that would emerge from a virus spread to humans by animals. Carroll was a senior infectious disease expert at USAID in 2005 during the avian influenza H5N1 virus outbreak in Southeast Asia. That experience changed his perspective on the risks that similar viruses pose to the world. Carroll realized that as the human population grew, so would the odds of a deadly pandemic. “It was really a profound eye-opener for me,” Carroll told Grist.
In her 1994 book, “The Coming Plague“, American Pulitzer prize-winning public health expert Laurie Garrett warned that a pandemic had the potential to overwhelm countries and health systems globally. Garrett also warned about the dangers of a global pandemic in subsequent books and speeches, including TED Talks, according to The New York Times. “While the human race battles itself, fighting over ever more crowded turf and scarcer resources, the advantage moves to the microbes’ court. They are our predators and they will be victorious if we, Homo sapiens, do not learn how to live in a rational global village that affords the microbes few opportunities,” Laurie wrote.
Soon after President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified about the threat a pandemic posed. “The most pressing transnational health challenge for the United States is still the potential for emergence of a severe pandemic, with the primary candidate being a highly lethal influenza virus,” Blair said, according to Project Syndicate. In 2010, he again addressed the need to improve the U.S.’s preparedness for a pandemic that could emerge from nature. “A lack of consistent surveillance and diagnostic capability for diseases in animals undermines the United States’ ability to identify, contain, and warn about local outbreaks before they spread,” he said.
Another senior official in the intelligence community who had warned of the possibility of a coronavirus-like event was James Clapper, Blair’s successor as U.S. Director of Intelligence. In March 2013, Clapper warned of the danger posed by zoonotic viruses with great detail. “An easily transmissible, novel respiratory pathogen that kills or incapacitates more than one percent of its victims is among the most disruptive events possible. Such an outbreak would result in a global pandemic,” Clapper said at the time, according to Project Syndicate.
Back in 2018, Dr. Luciana Borio, the former director of medical and biodefense preparedness as part of the White House National Security Council team, warned of a pandemic flu threat. “The threat of pandemic flu is the number one health security concern. Are we ready to respond? I fear the answer is no,” Borio said, according to BusinessInsider. To make matters worse, Borio’s pandemic response team was disbanded by the Trump administration in 2018 by John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser at the time.
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 70: Jamarlin Martin
Jamarlin goes solo to discuss the covid-19 crisis. He talks about the failed leadership of Trump, Andrew Cuomo, CDC Director Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and New York Mayor de Blasio.
New Zealand-born virologist and flu expert Robert G. Webster predicted an upcoming flu pandemic in a book he published in 2018. In his book, “Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus“, Webster writes that the rise of a deadly, disruptive pandemic is “just a matter of time,” and millions of people could die before such a pandemic is controlled, he added. “Nature will eventually again challenge mankind with an equivalent of the 1918 influenza virus. We need to be prepared,” he wrote, according to Newsroom.
Jeremy Konyndyk, a former director of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance under the Obama administration, warned of the expected emergence of a virus similar to the 1918 flu pandemic. Konyndyk In a 2017 Politico article, Konyndyk wrote that “a major new global health crisis is a question of when, not if.” In the article, he said that the Trump administration would not be prepared for “a highly fatal, highly contagious virus like the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which infected one-third of the world’s population and killed between 50 and 100 million people.”