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“Massive Global Failures” of COVID-19 Response Caused Millions of Preventable Deaths

The Lancet Commission called for global cooperation to end the continued spread of COVID-19 and effectively prevent future pandemics.

A new report, published last night by the Lancet Commission, conducted a critical analysis of the global response to the first to years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigators found “widespread failures of prevention, transparency, rationality, basic public health practice, operational cooperation, and international solidarity,” to which they attributed an estimated 17.7 COVID-19 deaths.

The Lancet Commission is a panel of 28 expert authors who worked for the past 2 years compile their report and recommendations. “The staggering human toll of the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic is a profound tragedy and a massive societal failure at multiple levels,” said Jeffrey Sachs, chair of the Commission, and a professor at Columbia University.

“We must face hard truths—too many governments have failed to adhere to basic norms of institutional rationality and transparency; too many people have protested basic public health precautions, often influenced by misinformation; and too many nations have failed to promote global collaboration to control the pandemic.”

Notably, pre-COVID-19 rankings of countries’ preparedness fell far short of their performance during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the US and several European countries were ranked the highest for their epidemic response capacity. In reality, East Asian and Oceanic nations had relatively superior COVID-19 suppression strategies, likely due to their prior experience containing the SARS epidemic in 2002.

Cumulatively, Europe and the Americas saw 4000 COVID-19 deaths per million, the highest of all regions within the World Health Organization (WHO). This is despite these high-income nations boasting high vaccination rates. “Over a year and a half since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered, global vaccine equity has not been achieved,” said Maria Fernanda Espinosa, co-author of the paper, former president of the UN General Assembly, and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defense in Ecuador. “In high-income countries, three in four people have been fully vaccinated, but in low-income countries, only one in seven,” Espinosa said.

WHO also delayed declaring COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, leading to national governments failing to cooperate on travel restrictions and other preventative protocol.

To address these shortcomings, the Commission recommended approximately $60 billion a year be invested in pandemic preparedness and building health systems in developing countries.

“Now is the time to take collective action that promotes public health and sustainable development to bring an end to the pandemic, addresses global health inequities, protects the world against future pandemics, identifies the origins of this pandemic, and builds resilience for communities around the world,” said Sachs. “We have the scientific capabilities and economic resources to do this, but a resilient and sustainable recovery depends on strengthened multilateral cooperation, financing, biosafety, and international solidarity with the most vulnerable countries and people.”