The History and Future of Planetary Threats | Advance Warning Systems and Forecasting Outbreaks
April 14, 2021
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. EST
The wide scale health and societal impact of COVID-19 have thrown into stark relief the lack of coordinated advance warning systems for epidemics and pandemics. This seminar featured public health and policy experts discussing the forecasting of infectious disease outbreaks; where we stand now, and what systems will be developed in years to come. Attendees learned what kind of data generation, systems and technologies require investment to develop advanced warning systems for better prevention and preparedness. Currently, the full force of epidemiological expertise in the United States is not being brought to bear to solve the problem. The absence of a centralized system for disease forecasting leave too many gaps hampering the capability of infectious disease models to inform public health policy. The best way to address these vulnerabilities would be to establish a National Center for Epidemic Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics, which would handle research and development in outbreak science, develop technology for producing disease forecasts, and provide guidance for preparedness and response to outbreaks.
In the History and Future of Planetary Threats series, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) convenes meetings to examine modern-day catastrophic risks and hazards, whether natural, accident or deliberate, in the following domains: geological, biological, epidemic infectious disease, environmental, chemical, extreme weather, food security, radiological and nuclear, or combinations of these. By catastrophic we understand to mean classes of events that could lead to sudden, extraordinary, widespread disaster beyond the collective capacity of national and international organizations and the private sector to control, causing severe disruptions in normal social functioning, heavy tolls in terms of morbidity and mortality, and major economic losses; in sum, events that may well cause a change in the direction of history. Nuclear falls into a class of its own, because it can result in the annihilation of life on planet earth and the end of history as we know it.
CAITLIN RIVERS is a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research focuses on improving public health preparedness and response, particularly by improving capabilities for “outbreak science” and infectious disease modeling to support public health decision making. Dr. Rivers participated as author or contributor in influential reports that are guiding the US response to COVID-19. In May 2020, Dr. Rivers testified in front of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies on the COVID-19 response.
DYLAN GEORGE is a Vice President at In-Q-Tel (IQT). Dr. George supports technical evaluations of life science and healthcare deals, and drives strategic science and technical vision to strengthen capacity within the United States to counter biological threats from infectious disease epidemics. Dr. George served on the Biden Transition team supporting National Security and Foreign Policy, and the agency review team for the Department of Health and Human Services.
JEFFREY SHAMAN focuses on climate, atmospheric science and hydrology, as well as biology, and studies the environmental determinants of infectious disease transmission and infectious disease forecast. Dr. Shaman is engaged in developing mathematical and statistical systems for generating forecasts of infectious disease outbreaks at a range of time scales.
JAMES RODGER FLEMING is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Colby College. His engagement with public policy includes writing and reviewing for the International Panel on Climate Change, testimony to Congress, and service on two U.S. National Academy of Sciences study panels.
WILMOT G. JAMES is a Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP), College of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University. Dr. James is the author and/or editor of 17 books that include the policy-oriented Vital Signs: Health Security in South Africa (2020), a set of essays on the public understanding of science titled Nature’s Gifts: Why we are the way we are (2010), a coedited book Biotechnology and Health: South Africa’s aspirations in health-related biotechnology (2007) and a co-edited collection of Nelson Mandela’s presidential speeches Nelson Mandela In His Own Words (2003), the latter having the distinction of containing forwards by Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan and given to the late Nelson Mandela on his 85th birthday.
ALEX N. HALLIDAY is the Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. He joined the Earth Institute in April 2018, after spending more than a decade at the University of Oxford, during which time he was dean of science and engineering. With about 400 published research papers, Halliday has been a pioneer in developing mass spectrometry to measure small isotopic variations in everything from meteorites to seawater to living organisms, helping to shed light on the birth and early development of our solar system, the interior workings of the Earth, and the processes that affect Earth’s surface environment.
Center for Pandemic Research at the Insitute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Columbia University | The Earth Institute
Columbia University | Program in Vaccine Education at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
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