Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters The end of the pandemic will not be televised

Data do not speak by themselves but will help end the pandemic

BMJ 2022; 376 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o161 (Published 24 January 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;376:o161
  1. Arnaud Chiolero, professor of public health and epidemiologist
  1. Population Health Laboratory (#PopHealthLab), University of Fribourg, 1700 Fribourg, Switzerland
  1. achiolero{at}gmail.com

In their questioning of how to define the end of the pandemic, Robertson and Doshi state, surprisingly, that “disconnecting ourselves from the dashboards” would be “the single most powerful action towards ending the pandemic.”1 Are they calling to abandon public health surveillance? Should we be nostalgic for an era with fewer data accessible to a limited number of experts and policy makers?

On the contrary. Data and dashboards are essential in the management of this pandemic and will help end it. In our age of big data, we suffer from infodemics and datademics, and misinformation and fake news are major public health threats.2 But it is not a new thought that data do not speak by themselves and can be misleading.3 What is new is that the pandemic has exposed a large share of the population and policy makers to health data, epidemiological concepts, and complex public health challenges like never before. It has revealed the uncertainty and frailty of the evidence on which major population health decisions are taken, which increases anxiety and causes distrust. It has also emphasised the importance of relying on trusted sources of information for policy making. One lesson for epidemiologists and health data scientists is the urgency to better communicate to help using health data and information for decision making; this is necessary for the implementation of data driven and evidence based public health.

The pandemic will not be over when the number of cases is zero and the vaccination rate has reached 100%.1 It will be over when citizens and policy makers agree on what disease burden is tolerable for a given societal cost.4 And data and dashboards will be essential to reach this agreement.

Footnotes

  • Competing interests: None declared.

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References

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