Innovation In The Time Of Pandemic (infographic)

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many are looking around wondering when the good news will come. The fact is that, while we are definitely still in some of our darkest days around the world, many are stepping up and stepping in wherever needed to put up the best possible fight against this disease globally. Throughout history epidemics have given us some of our most valuable innovations, including public health initiatives, vaccines, and even Shakespeare’s King Lear. When humanity encounters some of its toughest challenges, the people who thrive on stress and rise up to meet those challenges are the ones who are going to be giving us some of our greatest innovations.

The History Of Epidemic Innovations

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that most people are not able to be even fully functional in the midst of a major pandemic, let alone more productive and inspired than ever. For some people, getting out of bed and showering each day are major accomplishments, and everyone should be celebrated for achieving what they are able to accomplish during these trying times. But the fact stands that there are always people among us who thrive on stress, and this is their time to shine.

Shakespeare was one of those people who thrived on stress. He was twice quarantined during two separate outbreaks of the bubonic plague. The first time around he began writing poetry for income since theaters were shut down. The second time around he wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony & Cleopatra.

Just a few years later, Sir Isaac Newton fled to the countryside to escape yet another outbreak of the plague. While he was there he built on his existing work, developing his theories on calculus, the laws of motion, gravity, and optics, which were the cornerstones of his work for the rest of his life.


Epidemics also have spurred some major medical innovations. The Boston Smallpox epidemic of 1721 led to the first innovations that gave us vaccines - variolation was the process of taking puss from the wounds of infected people and inoculating well people with it. This practice took the mortality rate from 14% to 2%. Just 200 years later the Spanish Flu spread across the world, and the public health knowledge that was gained from it eventually led to the first influenza vaccine just a couple of decades later.

Covid-19 Is Spurring New Innovations, Too

A shortage of ventilators is one of the problems that is leading to a multitude of solutions. In Italy, ventilator tubes that cost $10k each were able to be 3D printed for $1 each. Several automakers and other manufacturers are working to make newer, less complicated ventilators to address the surge in demand for a critical piece of equipment that typically costs tens of thousands of dollars. Some are using CPAP machines fitted with snorkeling masks as oxygen delivery devices.

Distilleries that usually make whiskey have switched gears to provide hand sanitizer to first responders, hospitals, and later the general public. Personal protective gear is in short supply, so while manufacturers are ramping up supply, people are getting creative to bridge the gap. 3D printers are also coming to the rescue here, supplying 3D printed face shields, while other companies have begun developing reusable face masks made of antimicrobial fabric that can be washed.

Even thermometers and other smart devices are helping to track the spread of the virus, reporting anonymous data by location to public health officials. This data can show them who is getting fevers, who is following shelter in place orders, and more.

Learn more about the innovations in public health that come from epidemics and pandemics below.

How Epidemics Spur Innovative Thinking - infographic


Read next: Practicing Social Distancing Without Feeling Isolated (infographic)

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