Show 1283: What We Should Learn About the Coming Plague

Almost thirty years ago, Laurie Garrett published The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. In this thorough, carefully researched analysis, she laid out why public health authorities should be watching for new pathogens and how they should respond if that happened. Since then, of course, a number of bacteria and viruses have appeared, including SARS in 2002, Ebola in 2014 and, most recently, SARS-CoV-2 in 2019.

Public Health Systems Were Not Ready for COVID-19:

Although Garrett has been warning that such emerging diseases threaten not only health, but also national security, we were not at all ready for COVID-19. National stockpiles of PPE (personal protective equipment) were depleted. In the US, not enough personnel were available or trained to do contact tracing to help stop chains of transmission. What should we have learned from The Coming Plague? And what can we learn from our recent experience to help us respond better to emerging pathogens in the future?

What Should We Learn From the Coming Plague?

Laurie Garrett has been paying close attention to this pandemic and to responses around the world. Many governments made some serious errors in their initial reactions. The international systems that should have helped stop the spread of the infection failed to do so. This breakdown of international solidarity has impeded vaccination efforts worldwide. Misinformation also contributed to bungled responses, including difficulty encouraging people to get vaccinated.

What did she think when she first heard of an infection showing up in China in 2019? For Laurie Garrett, who reported from China during the SARS epidemic, it felt like déja vu. By early 2020, it seemed clear to her that we were headed for a global pandemic. Listen to the interview to find out what lessons we need to learn from this current experience so that we can prepare better for the coming plague of the future.

This Week’s Guest:

Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist, recently named as the 2021 Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Awardee by the Rutgers School of Public Health. Laurie Garrett’s work to educate the public continues through the COVID-19 pandemic as the science contributor to MSNBC and NBC News and a columnist for Foreign Policy. Garrett is a member of the Presidential Council of Advisors for the Human Vaccine Project, the World Economic Forum on Global Health Security Advisory Board, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the National Association for Science Writers. She also has a quarter of a million followers on Twitter (@Laurie_Garrett), where she actively shares breaking news, updates, and other information.

Laurie Garrett is the best-selling author of four books: The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance, Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health, I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks and Ebola: Story of an Outbreak. Look for them at

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, after broadcast on Dec. 11. You can stream the show from this site and download the podcast for free.

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Show 1283: What We Should Learn About the Coming Plague