Pandemic Simulation Exposes Massive Preparedness and Response Gaps
A mock pandemic exercise run by Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security was intended to test current preparedness levels. The end result of the simulation: 150 million dead worldwide.
The exercise, which mixed details of past disasters (and inspired in part by the response to the 2014 Ebola epidemic) with fictional aspects, was designed to give U.S. government officials and experts an experience in making the key decisions they could face during a real event. Officials had no advance knowledge, but had to make hard calls over whether to impose entry bans on international flights, how to respond to political pressure, who should receive initial vaccines, and more.
The result of the simulation: the fictional, flu-like outbreak had a 10% fatality rate akin to the SARS virus of 2002, and quickly spread to large cities around the world, ultimately killing 150 million people and crushing healthcare systems, stock markets, and governments.
“We didn’t want to have a Disney ending,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins center, told the New York Times. “We wanted to have a plausible scenario. We did know it would be jarring.”
Among the key lessons learned were to be more proactive in developing vaccines to combat the threat (failure to develop one within 20 months was one of the causes of the massive death toll), and also to counter social media misinformation that could otherwise derail response efforts.