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Opinion: New Oklahoma pandemic center preps state to become global public health leader

Opinion: New Oklahoma pandemic center preps state to become global public health leader

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When COVID-19 first hit, it quickly became clear our nation’s public health infrastructure was inadequate in many areas, particularly how to handle the influx of testing needed to combat a global pandemic.

Instead of accepting the current reality, Oklahoma’s health experts leaned in to solve how to improve our public health response, while also setting up Oklahoma for long-term success.

Federal CARES Act funding provided an opportunity to think differently about how we approach public health in Oklahoma, and we chose to think bigger and beyond COVID-19.

Thus, the idea for the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence was born.

The Stillwater center is the first health care, research and innovation center of its kind in the nation — and Oklahoma is uniquely positioned to make it a success.

The center’s mission is to grow partnerships between public and private entities, and improve public health responses by establishing an all-encompassing “One Health” approach to research, education and innovation.

One Health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and our environment. As a largely rural and agricultural state, Oklahoma is well-suited for this novel collaboration between human, animal and environmental health.

The center is taking lessons learned from these three communities for a stronger holistic understanding of health — for example, using state-of-the-art molecular technology to spot new variants of diseases and impending pandemics in animals before they make their way to humans.

Through this innovative approach, the center aims to become a global leader in leveraging animal and environmental science insights to improve public health and food safety.

The center will also work in collaboration with the state’s relocated public health lab to increase access to public health resources for all Oklahomans. Gathering our state’s public health capabilities allows us to multiply our learnings and resources to better serve Oklahomans and beyond.

In the short term, this means increased testing capacity and offerings, access to improved biological samples and a comprehensive biorepository system to provide specimens for test validation, research and innovation that helps prevent outbreaks and provide better service for local health departments during COVID-19.

In the long term, this means learning from COVID-19 and the One Health approach to improve Oklahoma’s pandemic preparedness and public health infrastructure.

Increased and accurate newborn screening capabilities, a fully automated sequencing lab with high-quality molecular technology and improved public health education will lead us down this path.

This new state-of-the-art public health center will position Oklahoma to lead the way in One Health and pandemic preparedness. It is unlike anything else in the country, and a lab of this caliber will attract bright minds, top talent, additional research and development funding and commerce opportunities for our state.

We have an exciting future ahead of us. Oklahoma is primed to be a national and global leader in public health and pandemic response. The launch of this pandemic center is just the first step.

Kevin Corbett is CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and state secretary of health and mental health. Elizabeth Pollard is state secretary of science and innovation.


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Kevin Corbett is CEO of the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and state secretary of health and mental health. Elizabeth Pollard is state secretary of science and innovation.

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