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Medical professor says we need more debate on confronting future pandemics

A medical professor at the University of California San Francisco urges open debate on how to respond to viruses and pandemics.

Vinay Prasad, who has a background in epidemiology and oncology, recently explained his views in an essay for MedPage Today. He said that shutting off debate on how to respond to a pandemic causes problems.

” I fear the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed fundamental problems at the intersection of science and policy that have implications far beyond respiratory viruses,” Prasad said. “Yes, we need pandemic preparedness, but we also need scientific preparedness.”

The med school professor describes a number of changes he would like to see when the next pandemic happens.

He explained:

If and when such a scenario arises, we need a system capable of discussing the varying interpretations of the scientific facts; capable of openly discussing various policy solutions and their trade-offs; and a way to solicit the input of the public to help policymakers understand the values and preferences to prioritize. In other words, we need a total renovation.

“We must create spaces” for “smart people” to disagree, Prasad said.

He explained why:

When human beings and governments are confronted with novel threats, when there are broad and sweeping policies deployed in response, it is inevitable that smart, well-intentioned people with different expertise will disagree. No matter what course of action we take, there will be some who find it too aggressive or too passive.

“Science needs a preparedness plan to foster dialog without animus in the setting of novel threats that require scientific input. If universities and think tanks cannot rise to the challenge, then I fear we are doomed,” Prasad said.

He also wants “arbiters” to help sort through competing viewpoints and provide summaries so that people can make decisions based on a variety of research.

“Fearmongering and denial should not be bones in their body,” he said. “These folks should be funded to summarize diverse views, and provide their opinion as to which ideas are most promising.”

Read the essay.

IMAGE: Vinay Prasad/Twitter

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