The United States finally seems to be gaining ground on the COVID-19 pandemic, which got a running start because of slow initial response and a long learning curve.

Now, a group of epidemiologists wants the federal government to look to the future and establish an early-warning system for pandemics that they aptly compare to weather forecasting.

Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, described to The New York Times a system that routinely would scan millions of plasma samples derived from routine lab work across the country. The scans would not identify particular viruses but would detect antibodies generated in response to classes of viruses, such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Such screening, for example, would detect the antibodies with certain areas, such as New York City, before an actual outbreak. Researchers pointed to the Zika virus outbreak several years ago, which was detected only when several infected babies were born in Brazil. Routine serological surveys likely would have detected it months sooner, they said.

Jessica Metcalf, a Princeton University epidemiologist, told The Times that she was part of a team several years ago that used serology in finding that immunity to measles was ominously low in Madagascar. In 2018 an outbreak took hold, killing more than 10,000 children.

Mina estimated that the cost to launch a serology-based early warning system would be about $100 million. Given the massive cost of COVID-19 in medical treatment and, even more so, economic disruption, that is a bargain. The Biden administration should begin the process of establishing the system.

— The Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre/TNS

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