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Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention

March 29, 2021

The National Science Foundation (NSF) held their final of four Predictive Intelligence for Pandemic Prevention (PIPP) workshops on March 22nd and 23rd, where experts from interdisciplinary sciences convened to inform a roadmap for research investments to better prepare for future pandemics. NSF will soon share a workshop report on the conclusions of these discussions. 

NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan spoke about how the spread of misinformation exacerbated the gravity of COVID-19. He noted that while we cannot stop pathogens, we can do everything in our power to detect them early and prevent them from becoming pandemics. He stressed the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration of all sectors, including the social and behavioral sciences.  

This workshop highlighted the direct human role in spreading pathogens and viruses. Pandemics can be aggravated or mitigated through collective behavioral change. David Nettle, a behavioral scientist at The University of Newcastle, spoke to concerns that citizens are reluctant to adopt new behaviors such as mask mandates and vaccine rollouts. He shared studies which show that people are willing to comply with orders if they know why they must change their behavior. Therefore, detailed information and effective communication are necessary for policy changes to have meaningful effects. Inequalities in our current system affect the lifespan of the virus and varying risk profiles for different communities. Cesunica Ivey, a professor of chemical and environmental studies at the University of California Riverside, emphasized the importance of getting the vaccine into the hands of the most vulnerable and frontline essential workers.  

Looking beyond the current situation, participants sought to identify insights from COVID-19 that may inform our response to future pandemics. Key takeaways include the importance of considering identity, place, generation, engagement and sustainability when developing policy responses. 

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