Last week, Harvard commemorated the centennial of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people worldwide with a weeklong series of events across the university.

Outbreak Week, led by the Harvard Global Health Institute, was a unique multidisciplinary effort investigating and engaging with epidemic and pandemic preparedness in the 21st century. The event featured a five-day series of conferences with leading researchers, policymakers, health advocates, economists, doctors, journalists, historians and other experts from various schools at Harvard and from other institutions in the U.S. and the world. Panel discussions and keynote addresses throughout the week focused on taking a new look at disease outbreaks and how prepared we are for the next big health crisis.

Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics co-sponsored three Outbreak Week symposia at the law school: Media in the Age of ContagionsVaccines for Outbreaks in the Modern World, and Preventing Epidemics in a Connected World.

The series opened with a public lecture on “Conflict and the Global Threat of Pandemics,” by Michele Barry, senior dean of global health and director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health at Stanford University. In a talk at the Geological Lecture Hall at Harvard Museum of Natural History, Barry examined the relationship between unrest and health crises.

‘Outbreak Week’ at Harvard opens with talk on how diseases often spread unchecked

At Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall, the Petrie-Flom Center co-hosted a symposium on Media in the Age of Contagions, on Wednesday, Sept. 26. Journalists who have covered public and global health for print, television, radio, and digital media outlets including NPR, PBS, Politico, The Washington Post, and STAT, among others, discussed the role of the media when an outbreak occurs, and examined the challenges to outbreak communication in the era of disinformation. Michael T. Osterholm, director of Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota delivered a keynote address.


On Thursday,  the Vaccines for Outbreaks in the Modern World symposium, co-hosted by Petrie-Flom Center at HLS, brought together a range of experts to discuss the development of an Ebola vaccine and to address vaccine rumors and misinformation. Petrie Flom’s Executive Director Carmel Shachar ’10, and Harvard Global Health Institute Director Ashish K. Jha, kicked off the event which featured panel discussions and keynote addresses from Michael Ryan, deputy director of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Response Programme, and Nicole Lurie, former assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The capstone event of Outbreak Week, Preventing Epidemics in a Connected World, was held at HLS on Friday. Ron Klain ’87, the Ebola response coordinator for the Obama Administration, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, delivered keynote addresses. Panel sessions featured experts from government, academia, research, and industry discussing mitigating risks, disease surveillance, and public-private partnerships.




Outbreak Week was organized by the Harvard Global Health Institute, in partnership with the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School; the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health; the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School; the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Common Spaces | the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center at Harvard University; the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture; the Center for the History of Medicine at Countway Library of Medicine; the Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute at Harvard University; and the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Additional videos from Outbreak Week will be posted on the Harvard Law School YouTube channel as soon as they are available.