National Pandemic

We're still treating the symptoms of the pandemic, rather than the cause

We may find a vaccine for the coronavirus,
but the next pandemic will likely be a different virus
By Constantine Valhouli  |  August 13, 2020 10:03 PM

Don't blame the pangolin. Blame deforestation and industrial farming.
Image via Adam Tusk, used under Creative Commons

The novel coronavirus that emerged in February of 2020 (edit: November of 2019) has shown that a global health crisis can become a worldwide financial crisis. The pandemic necessitated lockdowns that have cost millions of people their jobs, have forced many companies into bankruptcies, and have completely disrupted the familiar economic cadence of rental cycles, school years, and sports seasons.

In March of 2020, the United Nations estimated the worldwide cost of the coronavirus to be over $1 trillion. A month later, the Asian Development Bank estimated the worldwide cost to be over $4 trillion, and more than doubled that a month later. For context, $8 trillion represents 9.7% of the world's economic output. Cambridge University offered a worst-case estimate of $82 trillion of economic loss – more than a year's worth of economic output.

Even with the billions being spent on unemployment benefits, trillions on stimulus measures, and further billions on accelerated research into coronavirus vaccines, we are still treating the symptoms of the pandemic, not the cause.

In all likelihood, this is the first of multiple pandemics to follow. The vaccines we develop now will be effective against a recurrence of this coronavirus, but not necessarily against whatever pathogen next spreads worldwide through our industrial supply chain.

The coronavirus is just one of many deadly pathogens in the wild that could become pandemics. However, most do not have the opportunity to jump from animal to human populations. But as industrial farming and wide-spread logging have removed large swathes of forest and other buffer zones between animal and human populations, there is greater contact and thus a higher likelihood of a pathogen becoming a pandemic. Viruses borne by wild animals can be introduced to livestock through wet markets, and from there broadly through global supply chain – as well as jumping to human populations. More from the National Institutes of Health here.

Will we be willing to pull back from the deforestation and industrial farming – and shortsighted pursuit of profit at all costs – to recognize that a slight rethinking of our conventional methods may be more expensive in the short turn, but can help us avoid another worldwide lockdown when the next pandemic inevitably emerges.