The Trump administration’s neglect and incompetence helped put half-a-million Americans in the ground, dead from COVID-19. Joe Biden was elected president in part on the promise of setting us on a science-driven course correction, but, a little more than a year later, another half-a-million Americans were killed by the virus. What happened? In The Fault in Our SARS, evolutionary epidemiologist Rob Wallace catalogs the Biden administration’s failures in controlling the outbreak. He also shows that, beyond matters of specific political persona or party, it was a decades-long structural decline associated with putting profits ahead of people that gutted U.S. public health.
COVID-19 isn’t just an American tragedy. Each in its own way, countries around the world following the “profit-first” model failed their people. Global vaccination campaigns were bottled up by efforts to protect pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights. Economies were treated as somehow more real than the people and ecologies upon which they depend. Frustrated populations pushed back against lockdowns, abuses of governmental trust, and, fair or not, the very concept of public health. A social rot meanwhile wended its way into the heart of the sciences that, tasked with controlling disease, serve the systems that helped bring about COVID-19 in the first place.
In The Fault in Our SARS, Wallace and an array of invited contributors aim to strip down the capitalist social psychology that in effect protected the SARS virus. The team proposes instead new approaches in health and ecology that appeal both to humanity’s highest ideals and to the pragmatic changes we must make to survive COVID and the worst of the new diseases on the horizon.
Rob Wallace is trained as an evolutionary biologist and phylogeographer studying the evolution of infectious diseases. Author of the books Big Farms Make Big Flu: Dispatches on Infectious Disease, Agribusiness and the Nature of Science (Monthly Review, 2016), Neoliberal Ebola: Modeling Disease Emergence from Finance to Forest and Farm (Springer, 2016), and Farming Human Pathogens: Ecological Resilience and Evolutionary Process (Springer, 2009), he is also a public health activist, running start-up organizations such as PReP, Pandemic Research for the People, and a hugely resourceful, heady public online research blog called Farming Pathogens.