COVID-19: Why Were We So Unprepared?

October 28, 2020

Dr. Frank Snowden

Andrew Downey Orrick Professor Emeritus of History & History of Medicine, Yale University

REGISTER NOW →   The lecture will take place as a virtual Zoom webinar and is open to all Stevens students, faculty, staff, alumni, and invited guests. Registration is required.

Frank Snowden Photo

ABSTRACT: Epidemic diseases are not random events. Rather, they reflect the nature of the societies within which they disseminate. In other words, humans do not create pathogens, but they do create the conditions necessary for them to thrive in our midst.

Since 1997 and the avian flu epidemic, scientists have warned that the globalized world in which we live is congested, and interconnected cities create severe vulnerabilities for microbes to exploit. In the opinion of leading virologists, the greatest danger was that of a major pulmonary virus, whose arrival was “inevitable.” Indeed, a series of medical emergencies in the new century – SAARS, MERS, swine flu, and Ebola – confirmed the danger and led to intermittent attempts at pandemic planning.

Yet, after a quarter of a century of warning, and a series of pandemic “dress rehearsals,” both the US and the international community were caught unprepared by the onset of COVID-19. This talk will explore the reasons for this tragic lack of foresight and consider what a robust preparation would entail for the future.

BIOGRAPHY: Frank Snowden attended Harvard College, and earned his D.Phil. degree from Oxford University. After teaching at London University and Yale from 1975 to 2018 and serving as Chair of History of Science and Medicine at Yale for seven years, he is now Andrew Downey Orrick Professor Emeritus of History and History of Medicine at Yale. His principal publications in the field of medicine and public health are: Naples in the Time of Cholera, 1884 – 1911; The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900 – 1962; and Epidemics and Society: from the Black Death to the Present.