Outpacing Pandemics: Solving the First and Last Mile Challenges of Data-Driven Policy Making

Article by Stefaan Verhulst, Daniela Paolotti, Ciro Cattuto, and Alessandro Vespignani: “As society continues to emerge from the legacy of COVID-19, a dangerous complacency seems to be setting in. Amidst recurrent surges of cases, each serving as a reminder of the virus’s persistence, there is a noticeable decline in collective urgency to prepare for future pandemics. This situation represents not just a lapse in memory but a significant shortfall in our approach to pandemic preparedness. It dramatically underscores the urgent need to develop novel and sustainable approaches and responses and to reinvent how we approach public health emergencies.

Among the many lessons learned from previous infectious disease outbreaks, the potential and utility of data, and particularly non-traditional forms of data, are surely among the most important lessons. Among other benefits, data has proven useful in providing intelligence and situational awareness in early stages of outbreaks, empowering citizens to protect their health and the health of vulnerable community members, advancing compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions to mitigate societal impacts, tracking vaccination rates and the availability of treatment, and more. A variety of research now highlights the particular role played by open source data (and other non-traditional forms of data) in these initiatives.

Although multiple data sources are useful at various stages of outbreaks, we focus on two critical stages proven to be especially challenging: what we call the first mile and the last mile.

We argue that focusing on these two stages (or chokepoints) can help pandemic responses and rationalize resources. In particular, we highlight the role of Data Stewards at both stages and in overall pandemic response effectiveness…(More)”.