How Australia should prepare for the next pandemic

Australian flag with a COVID dose

Australia’s leading scientific research body has made 20 recommendations on how we can better prepare for the next pandemic.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has released a report, Strengthening Australia’s Pandemic Preparedness, outlining how we can improve our resilience to future pandemics, reduce their economic impact and protect the community.

As of this month, the pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 13,500 Australians and resulted in a hit to national gross domestic product (GDP) of around $144 billion between December 2019 and March 2022.

The report is based on consultations with 146 experts from 66 organisations across government, industry and the research sector.

Read: COVID is far from over, health expert warns

The CSIRO says science and technology can complement effective, short-term strategies such as lockdowns, border closures and quarantine approaches while mitigating their significant social, health and economic costs.

The report praised Australia’s overall response to the pandemic but said there was significant scope for improvement.

It says the 20 recommendations should be adopted as soon as possible and highlights six key science and technology areas that are critical to minimising the impact of future pandemics.

It also demonstrates how Australia’s health system can be used as a kind of pandemic ‘early warning system’ if it is properly staffed and resourced.

Read: First Omicron-specific vaccine approved

The report recommends that future pandemic research should focus on five broad virus families – Coronaviridae (COVID), Flaviviridae (dengue fever), Orthomyxoviridae (influenza), Paramyxoviridae (nipah virus) and Togaviridae (chikungunya fever).

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said preparing and protecting Australia from pandemics would take a national approach.

“Australia played a critical role in the global response to COVID-19 to contain outbreaks and find a vaccine, including detection, safety, data tracking, vaccine manufacture and testing, virus analysis, and predictive data analytics,” he said.

Read: Planning for COVID vaccine rollout too late, review finds

“CSIRO is developing a major new research mission to address infectious disease resilience, and with our partners in universities, industry and government, we are forecasting what we can expect from future pandemics.”

The six key science and technology areas identified as needing particular focus and improvement are:

  • preclinical capabilities for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics
  • domestic vaccine manufacturing for a wide range of vaccines to ensure supply
  • therapeutic repurposing and novel antivirals to increase available treatment options
  • point of care diagnostics to improve case identification
  • genomic analysis to better understand pathogens and their variants
  • data sharing for timelier access to information for healthcare professionals.

Health and aged care minister Mark Butler praised the report, saying it was an important first step in improving Australia’s pandemic response.

“This report is about learning the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic and analysing how we are better placed to act faster, more decisively and in a more informed way,” he said in a statement.

“The delivery of greater vaccine manufacturing capabilities in Australia is a great step towards future preparations and driving research into other viruses means our health experts are well placed to respond quickly to an emerging threat.”

How do you think Australia could have handled the pandemic better? What do we need to do to prepare for the next one? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

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