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As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, it is impossible to escape comparisons to the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic: modern society’s most recent global health emergency of this scope. No doubt, global ties at that time, too—through transportation, commerce, and even war—contributed to the circulation of the virus on an unprecedented scale. And though our great-grandparents were far from tweeting, posting, or dancing on TikTok, they were still inundated with false information and rumors. The name “Spanish Flu” itself was coined by Western societies living under wartime press embargoes. Since neutral Spain was among the first countries to freely report growing cases of a deadly illness, the term “Spanish Flu” stuck despite its likely origins on Great War battlefields. All the same, by 1919 the pandemic killed nearly 50 million people — some 3-4% of the world’s population. Given such dizzying losses, humankind was forced to take a deep, hard look at our collective capabilities. And in the spirit of our species, we adapted. The League of Nations, for instance, established one of the first global health bodies to coordinate information sharing and emergency response. Today, this infrastructure — embodied in the World Health Organization — has played a key role in helping to organize society in our shared fight.
Despite the comparisons, we are fortunate to have advantages that those earlier generations didn’t: global solutions. Thanks to technology, strong global infrastructure, and the work of governments, business, and individuals, we are able to come together to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. How can hospitals heal the sick if they don’t have the supplies they need? How can companies produce these supplies without physical workers and efficient processes? How can governments and business best care for workers that are displaced? And lastly—truly the most important, in my view: how will anyone be saved from this pandemic if society — all of us — don’t engage in rigorous social distancing? Truly, we at the U.S. Chamber believe we are part of a “whole-of-society" approach.
The member companies of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) — innovators in the biopharmaceutical, movies and music, and technology sectors — are known for creating cutting-edge products, services, and technologies that lengthen and enrich the lives of billions. In a time of acute global crisis, when public life is under threat, our role has become ever clearer: a source of health, safety, security, comfort, and aid to society.
Our primary concern, no doubt, is facilitating global collaboration to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 patients. In the spirit of scientific inquiry, our member companies continue to work alongside government research labs and universities. The average person might not know, however, that 57 percent of all new medicines come from the United States, and that private biopharmaceutical companies make more than 80 percent of the investment in the research and development of those new drugs. Further, these companies have the ability to test and produce products quickly, safely, and in great numbers — a critical role given the rapid spread of the virus.
Scientific and medical journal publishers are also contributing to the fight as they make COVID-19, SARS, and MERS-related studies available for researchers, text and data miners worldwide. In our information-saturated age, trusted sources of information have become ever more difficult to find. Scientific and medical journals’ role in the R&D ecosystem then, by editing and peer-reviewing articles, keeps the spirit of science alive by ensuring that information is accurate and high quality.
Lastly, the creative and technology sectors have harnessed digital tools to enable mass social distancing and quarantine. From videoconference and instant messaging software to the streaming of music and movies—even the ability for me to write this op-ed from my kitchen table — are enabled by innovative industries everywhere.
Here at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we believe that strong, consistent rules on intellectual property encourage the development of new technology, medicines, and content, to name a few. Prioritizing these policies—as well as the hard work of researchers, creators, and extraordinary people all around the world — will be key in beating back this immense social challenge. For a closer look at the broader Chamber’s response on the COVID-19 pandemic, in-depth country-by-country data, as well as our recommendations for small business and IP-intensive industries, please visit here.