Quick Take: Why the U.S. COVID Response Still Matters

DGHI's Gavin Yamey discusses a new analysis that shows many of the issues that led the U.S. to suffer disproportionate deaths have not been fixed, leaving the country prone to a future pandemic.  

Published February 13, 2024 under Commentary

It’s hardly news that the U.S. response to COVID-19 fell staggeringly short of expectations. Despite being ranked in 2021 as the country with the best capacity to manage a pandemic threat, the U.S. experienced more than 1 million deaths from COVID-19, 16% of the world’s deaths in a nation with just 4% of its population. 

 But would the U.S. fare any better if a pandemic happened now? It’s not likely, says Gavin Yamey, M.D., director of DGHI’s Center for Policy Impact in Global Health. And that’s at least partly because the U.S. has failed to fix the systemic issues that drove its poor response during COVID-19 – and in many cases, even made things worse. 

 “One of the reasons the United States did so catastrophically poorly compared to its high-income peer nations is that we have a whole range of pre-existing, underlying structural and social weaknesses that hindered our response, and those weaknesses are still there,” Yamey says in a Quick Take video.

 Yamey and Ana Diez Roux, M.D., Ph.D., of Drexel University‘s Urban Health Collaborative recently co-edited a series for the British Medical Journal re-examining the U.S. COVID response. The articles, written by leading clinicians and researchers across the US, explore how systemic racism, economic inequality and an inadequate legal framework for public health contributed to the large number of deaths and massive disparities in the pandemic's impact on racial minorities and the poor. Keisha Bentley-Edwards, a Duke associate professor of medicine and DGHI affiliate, authored one of the articles in the series, focused on root causes of racial disparities in COVID's impact.

 But the series is not an exercise in finger-pointing, Yamey says. It’s a roadmap of critical steps that need to be taken to improve U.S. population health and prevent mass death in a future pandemic. 

Yamey, Diaz Roux, Bentley-Edwards and the other lead authors of the BMJ series will discuss their findings durig a DGHI Think Global event, U.S. Pandemic Response: What Will It Take to Do Better?, on April 2.