Preparedness for Pandemics Means Acting Now
  • Analysis
  • December 8, 2021

COVID-19 has demonstrated the inadequacy of current global capacities to help countries respond to pandemics. The pervasive and protracted nature of pandemics distinguishes them from epidemics, which are more limited in geographic scope. In an epidemic, unaffected nations may be able to contribute funds, personnel, and other resources to assist the affected country. In a pandemic, however, that model is generally not applicable because many, if not all, countries may be affected at once. In that case, resources held by the WHO, World Bank, and other international organizations that typically are used to help countries respond to significant outbreaks and epidemics will have to be spread among a greater number of countries, diluting the resources for targeted assistance. With the need for support exceeding the availability of global resources, countries must rely on domestic resources to stop a pandemic spread.

The development of and access to COVID-19 vaccines shows that when all countries are worried about protecting their people, they will prioritize national needs ahead of global interests. Although global recovery from a pandemic requires that all people have access to vaccines, no global agreement ensures that all countries have access to vaccines.

The lack of global response agreements means that countries may have to rely heavily on national resources to mount a response to a pandemic. During COVID-19, higher-income countries were better able to develop emergency response capacities, likely due to greater existing financial reserves to cover the costs.

To ensure that countries have the capacities they need to respond to a pandemic, countries should act now to fund and develop the necessary health security capacities. By waiting for the next crisis before they act, they risk not being able to respond effectively before capacity is developed and likely will incur greater financial costs than if they had developed, tested, and exercised capacities in advance.