Washington health leaders discuss pandemic response

Coronavirus

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Leaders in Washington took a look back at the pandemic on Wednesday to discuss lessons learned and to talk about how they might better combat COVID-19 or other widespread disease in the future. 

They said there needs to be more of a global vaccination effort to make sure that all countries have access to a vaccine. Also, they say the U.S. needs to shore up supply chains and stop the flow of misinformation.

“I hope as we design the future response, we are able to do a better job,” Nikolaj Gilbert, president and CEO of PATH said.

Vaccine equity was top of mind during discussions on how to improve the pandemic response worldwide.  

“Health equity and vaccine access is the biggest failure of this pandemic. The fact that we are still in single digits in places in Africa and have oversupply in many, many countries in the western world, in the northern hemisphere, it’s not right and we are paying the price with the omicron variant,” Gilbert said.

“We should be doing everything we can to decentralize the manufacturing of vaccines,” Washington Representative Pramila Jayapal said.

Jayapal says the U.S. also needs to re-invest in public health systems – something done in places like Taiwan and South Korea nearly a decade ago after the SARS epidemic.

“They increased the number of hospital beds, they increased their public health monitoring systems and it better prepared them to handle COVID-19 pandemic,” Jayapal explained.

The congresswoman says the presence of a universal health care system, at times, made the battle against COVID more effective in other countries — something the U.S. lacks. 

“In countries with universal health care, especially those with single payer systems…people who got COVID didn’t avoid testing or treatment out of fear of costs,” Jayapal said.

Jayapal says there is a “certainty that universal health care offers” that is crucial to dealing with a pandemic. 

“Another thing that happened here in the U.S. that we had to deal with…people got kicked off health care insurance because they lost their jobs…so that direct connection between somebody’s health care and somebody’s job made it that much worse because now we had even more, 19 million people lost their jobs and so they lost their health care,” Jayapal noted.

Jayapal says they’re also looking at social media companies and their ability to control disinformation. She says regulation or reforms in communication laws might be needed.  

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