Title: Why Can’t We Innovate During Pandemics?
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The curious failure to use available science on aerosols, and aerosol-borne transmission of disease, has been a signal failing of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. The inability to adapt mental models of disease transmission to available science has held back control efforts, and likely resulted in many unnecessary illnesses and deaths. Our recent experience echoes challenges faced in historical epidemics, including cholera epidemics in Victorian England, and in the “childbed fever” epidemics of the same era. Here I explore the parallels between these experiences, discuss obstacles to the replacement of outdated conceptual models of disease transmission, and explore what we can learn from the ideas of John Snow and Ignaz Semelweis, whose ideas did ultimately prevail. I also discuss the ways in which scientific uncertainty (whether real, or manufactured via disinformation campaigns) can impact the roles scientists play in advising governments during public health emergencies.
Dr. David Fisman is a physician-epidemiologist with research interests that fall at the intersection of applied epidemiology, mathematical modeling, and applied health economics. Dr. Fisman completed a residency in Internal Medicine at McGill and Brown Universities, before completing a fellowship at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, and an MPH at Harvard School of Public Health. He was also an AHRQ fellow in Health Policy (1998-2001) at Harvard Centre for Risk Analysis, and has held faculty appointments at McMaster, Princeton and Drexel Universities. He is currently a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Toronto and a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and co-leads the Pandemic Readiness Stream at the University of Toronto’s new Institute for Pandemics.
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