Zombies and Coronavirus: Planning for the Next Big Outbreak | Panel

The information and opinions expressed are of the panelist themselves and not of Comic Con or the companies they work for. 

We are no strangers to the concepts of infectious or contagious diseases. For one, the fear makes great entertainment with shows, movies, and books like The Walking Dead, World War Z, and Contagion. But what happens, when elements from our world of entertainment becomes a reality? How can we prepare? What do we know? Who can we trust?

Comic Con @ Home held a panel called “Zombies and Coronavirus: Planning for the Next Big Outbreak” in which these questions were asked. See below the panel description and panelists, and below that my favorite key points from the panel. 

Ever wonder how we can translate what we’ve learned from our recent pandemic challenges into dealing with the next unknown, even the zombie apocalypse? Join author Max Brooks (World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide, Devolution), biodefense experts Dr. Greg Koblentz (George Mason University), Dr. Gigi Gronvall (Johns Hopkins University), Dr. Shanna Ratnesar-Shumate (University of Nebraska Medical Center) and Dr. Jarod Hanson(USAMRIID and University of Maryland Medical Center) and moderator Justin Hurt (Comic-Con Today assistant editor) for an engaging and entertaining discussion of how we could prepare for what comes next in the realm of infectious disease.

Recent Significant Infectious Disease History:

  • SARS: 2003-2004 (2002 when it officially started but wasn’t reported till 2003) started in China/Hong Kong and produced roughly 8,096 tested cases and 811 deaths with a fatality rate of 10%.
  • H1N1: 2009 14,286 deaths confirmed, but likely the rate was higher and possibly up to 700 million persons infected according to the WHO (World Health Organization). 
  • West African Ebola Outbreak: 2013 happened primarily in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia with 28,646 cases and approximately 11,323 deaths for a case fatality rate of 39%.
  • Kivu Ebola Epidemic: 2017 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda with 3,470 confirmed cases and 22,080 deaths for a case fatality rate of 66%.
  • Now we are at the COVID-19 outbreak and as of when this panel was filmed, John Hopkins was tracking over 10 million 199 thousand cases worldwide with 500,200,947 deaths so far with a case fatality rate of 4.9%.
  • Reporting of the deaths are often reported differently. If there is a suspected COVID involvement that is secondary to some other problem that the patient is having, it could COVID might not be counted as the reason of death. So there can be uneven reporting.

How we can practically solve infectious disease problems with research that has been done and the types of trends the panelists has seen:

  • Hanson says the takeaway should be, we can only go up from where we are. Maybe now we will learn how we should plan for things in the future and shouldn’t assume that this wouldn’t happen to us. Starting by listening to public health experts and listening to people saying we should stay home, etc. We should also keep in mind how little public health can cost compared to the ultimate harm that comes out of an outbreak. 
  • Gronvall says every day is a biology news day. Biological science is the only way out of this and we need to support it. Science has been the most helpful part of this. With technology now researchers can download sequences and work from their sciences off of that, and do not need actual samples delivered. Scientists are now also more collaborative. These things have helped us immensely in where we are today so quickly with trying to solve this outbreak issue. We do need to get better at taking advantage of the information and with testing. She states that health security and science need to be at the highest level of governing and needs to be as important to nuclear weapons to the people who are running our world. Also COVID has been a failure to act, we have had similar things like this in the past and have been imagining these situations for many years and this proves we need to get prepared because this could even happen again. 
  • Ratnesar-Shumate says to best understand how this pathogen is transferring from person to person, we really need to get all the different types of scientific disciplines together to fully understand how and why it’s spreading. There is so much distrust of scientists especially in the US, we need to make sure the next generation understands the sciences and be able to trust and understand them. This will help the population in following through with the decisions the public health officials are making. We can put this information out there, but we need to make the information meaningful to the population so they can understand how to translate that in some way to protect themselves and reduce the risk of exposure. 
  • Koblentz says we should expect the unexpected. We cannot predict these outbreaks. This is a warning we cannot predict what mother nature is going to do next. We need to realize that also humans are as much of a threat as zombies. Humans are a threat because of survival. If you have what I need, I’m going to take what I need in order to survive. We are seeing that now in the competition of international resources, we should be cooperating and not competing. Viruses are invisible and can be asymptomatic and have no idea who’s infected and who can affect others. Zombies, we can see them coming. 
  • Brooks says our biggest threat in our nation is the gap between the American people and those who protect them. People can understand something, but don’t truly get it if they are not connected with the fear of the issue at hand. For example, people in these later generations now not experiencing TB, or things of that nature, don’t have the fear we should take away from that experience to make us take the proper actions to protect ourselves. A solution is bringing the entertainment industry with books, movies, cartoons, etc. and translating the complicated information to the general public in a way to make them understand the severity in a way they can consume, digest, and properly react. If we don’t bridge this gap, nothing that’s done will save us. 
  • Gronvall discussing the 2018 National Bio Defence Strategy says these documents are just words on paper unless we have leaders that will make decisions against them. As long as they were just going to relegate it to what doctors or scientists do, then it’s not actually going to be implemented. Once again, we need the health and science organizations to be as important as nuclear weapons in order for these regulations we need for health safety to happen.
  • Brooks raises a possible solution for getting all the needed people together (the scientists, policy makers, the military, and creators), to “row the boat together” for this challenge for COVID or a Zombie Apocalypse. He says bring in a recruiter of their world and make them an ambassador back to their world. 
  • Hanson says we need to do a better job of saying this is what we know now, and there are a lot of unknowns that can come along. Even if something doesn’t have a high fatality, there are still a lot of serious unknowns that might happen. People need to know science is constantly evolving, and so your knowledge must too. Be prepared to move on with that and that’s the only way to get people to follow what must be done at this time to help keep us safe. 
  • Brooks brings up an excellent point about biodefense safety in saying there could be people out there who are thinking that things like COVID or something that could start a Zombie outbreak needs to be bottled so they can use it as an attack. So health and bio defense should be a form of national security. 

I don’t know about you, but this information has really made me feel a lot better. Not necessarily safer, I still think a lot has to change and I don’t know when or if that will ever happen. But I’m happy to know these people are out there sharing their perspectives and that Comic Con held this panel. 

What did you think of this panel? What point was most influential to you? Do you feel ready for a Zombie or otherwise apocalypse? Have you read any of these books or seen these movies? Let us know in the comments and we will catch you same Nerd-Time, same Nerd-Channel.

If you enjoyed this article and want to watch the full panel, you can watch it HERE.

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