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"Massive Societal Failure" Seen During World's COVID Response, Says Report

The world really screwed up its response to COVID-19.


Tom Hale


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

A young boy wearing a COVID-19 face mask lays flowers at grave.
There have been over 1 million reported COVID-19 deaths in the US, according to the CDC. Image credit: Egrigorovich/

The shockingly high death toll from COVID-19 is "both a profound tragedy and a massive global failure at multiple levels," says a new report by the Lancet COVID-19 Commission.

A huge interdisciplinary team of researchers reviewed evidence from the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic to see what could have been done better and how we can better prepare for the next global disease outbreak. 


According to the report, there have been 6.9 million confirmed deaths and 17.2 million estimated deaths from COVID-19. They argue that this enormous death toll is the result of multiple failures at pretty much every level of society, from international authorities right down to the general public.

"The staggering human toll of the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic is a profound tragedy and a massive societal failure at multiple levels," said Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Chair of the Commission, in a statement sent to IFLScience.

“We must face hard truths—too many governments have failed to adhere to basic norms of institutional rationality and transparency; too many people have protested basic public health precautions, often influenced by misinformation; and too many nations have failed to promote global collaboration to control the pandemic."

The report highlights 10 of the biggest failures seen during the international community's response to COVID-19: 

  • The lack of timely notification of the initial outbreak of COVID-19
  • The failure to promptly and clearly acknowledge the airborne exposure pathway of SARS-CoV-2.
  • The lack of coordination among countries regarding suppression strategies
  • The failure of governments to manage economic and social spillovers
  • The shortfall of global funding for low-income and middle-income countries 
  • The failure to secure and fairly distribute key commodities, including protective gear, diagnostics, medicines, medical devices, and vaccines.;
  • The lack of timely and accurate data on infections, deaths, viral variants, health system responses, and indirect health consequences. 
  • The poor enforcement of biosafety regulations in the lead-up to the pandemic, raising the possibility of a laboratory-related outbreak.
  • The failure to combat disinformation. 
  • The lack of global and national safety nets to protect populations experiencing vulnerability.

It isn’t all bad news. The report does highlight some things the world got right, primarily the rapid development of numerous effective and safe vaccines. However, the continued failure to fairly distribute vaccines across the world has somewhat taken the shine off this achievement. 

“Over a year and a half since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered, global vaccine equity has not been achieved. In high-income countries, three in four people have been fully vaccinated, but in low-income countries, only one in seven,” said Commission co-author Maria Fernanda Espinosa, former President of the UN General Assembly and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence, Ecuador. 

“All countries remain increasingly vulnerable to new COVID-19 outbreaks and future pandemics if we do not share vaccine patents and technology with vaccine manufacturers in less wealthy countries and strengthen multilateral initiatives that aim to boost global vaccine equity."

The Lancet COVID-19 Commission aims a few blows at the World Health Organization (WHO) for its role in the misfiring. While they believe the WHO should maintain its central role in global public health, they say the pandemic highlighted the need for reform within the agency and a “substantial increase of its core budget.”


The WHO has responded to the report saying it “welcomes the overarching recommendations” but it fails to account for the WHO’s successes, such as its prompt response and early acknowledgment of asymptomatic spreading.


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