What are you doing to prepare for Disease X? If you are like most people, probably nothing. This is likely the first you are hearing of Disease X. However, if you spent mid-January in Davos, your answer may have included improving healthcare infrastructure, investing in vaccines, and promoting a pandemic treaty that may or may not threaten state sovereignty around the globe.
Yes, at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting this year, Disease X, which is the place-holding name for any undiscovered pathogen with pandemic potential, was on the agenda, and our global ruling class made it clear they are planning ahead.
On Jan. 17, Nancy Brown, the CEO of the American Heart Association, led a panel discussion that included World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Brazil’s minister of health, and representatives from AstraZeneca, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, and Royal Philips.
“The goal of [the] discussion,” Brown said, was to “talk about what can we and should we be doing to make sure our health systems are prepared for any future crisis that might come along that requires global collaboration and participation and how can we be sure that we learn from the past to strengthen systems for the future.”
Some of the ideas put forth in the discussion were pretty reasonable. New diseases happen. Pandemics are real. We should be prepared.
Ghebreyesus highlighted the need to ensure hospitals can expand space and increase personnel quickly in the event of a massive surge in Disease X patients. Roy Jakobs, the CEO of Royal Philips, noted the need to keep healthcare staff up, running, and protected in a Disease X crisis. And Michel Demaré of AstraZeneca seemed to acknowledge the need for healthcare systems to continue to provide standard services such as cancer screenings during a Disease X pandemic.
Yet, there was also a lot of talk about the rapid development and global deployment of vaccines as if the Covid-19 shots were an overwhelming success. To be clear, I do not mean to imply vaccines are inherently bad. However, if part of the goal is that we learn from the past, there should be some acknowledgment that the Covid vaccines — characterized by limited effectiveness, questionable safety, and waning demand — serve more as a cautionary tale than anything else.
Additionally, Preetha Reddy, the executive vice chairwoman of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, and Nisia Trindade Lima, the minister of health from Brazil, appeared to give subtle nods of approval to past lockdowns with no objection by anyone on the panel that lockdowns were not only ineffective but detrimental to society.
And perhaps most disturbingly, despite the many missteps of public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the WHO during Covid, Ghebreyesus used the platform to promote the WHO’s pandemic agreement. Critics such as evolutionary biologist and DarkHorse Podcast co-host Bret Weinstein have warned that the agreement may lead to the “elimination of our national and our personal sovereignty” by allowing the WHO to dictate how its member nations respond to future pandemics with regard to, among other things, vaccination and the handling of misinformation.