Why medical professionals disagree on when the next pandemic will be

Thirty-eight percent of medical professionals told Becker's they believe the next pandemic may be less than five years away, according to the results of a June LinkedIn poll. Thirty-six percent said it could be more than 10 years away.

The remaining 26 percent fell in the middle. The question received 751 answers in total, along with 10 comments that revealed starkly differing opinions.

Several of the public comments revealed that the issue continues to be overtly polarizing politically for some, even in the healthcare industry.

"Whenever they decide to plan it," Juliana Hanbridge, RN, MSN, a nursing instructor at the University of South Carolina commented. 

"Is there a rate for 'pandemics' That's a question to be watched," Ayman Stephanos, MD, a fellow of the European Board of Urology commented. "Anyway, with [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers] guidelines, a future pandemic shouldn't be as bad as it was in COVID-19. Next time: remember, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence." 

For perspective on the results, Becker's looped in infectious disease expert Rebecca Wurtz, MD, a professor in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis, which is also home to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

"I would say is that it's 2023 and in the last 20 years we've seen — starting with SARS in 2003, then H1N1 in 2009 and of course COVID in 2020 —  So in 20 years, we've had three pandemics declared by the WHO," Dr. Wurtz said. "That's an average of every six and a half years or so. I think the people who said somewhere in the middle, within the next five to 10 years, are based on history most likely to be right."

She explained her personal take on the question would be closer to the five-year mark and pointed out that "there's no natural reason why it couldn't be less than five years," either. 

As for individuals who responded that another pandemic is likely to be further than 10 years away, Dr. Wurtz said that school of thought could range from politics, profession within healthcare or even a more optimistic view looking back at the COVID response of the healthcare sector.

"There are also definitely a lot of people in public health who have retired since the pandemic, and we're still in sort of a leadership vacuum that's slowly being filled," she said. "But it wasn't medicine that went wrong during COVID. Medicine and healthcare did a fantastic job in difficult circumstances. It was public health that didn't succeed, and I think hasn't been fixed. So for the 36 percent who said it may be more than 10 years away, they might be healthcare professionals who think that we've learned the lessons we needed to or have a more optimistic worldview. But from everything I can tell, it's probably more likely in the middle between six and nine years."


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