For just over the past year, Dr. Ashish Jha served as the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator. Before returning to his role as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, Jha spoke to Boston Public Radio about public health and the future of pandemic preparedness.

“When I got to the White House, I realized 'I've got to get out of the prediction business and I’ve got to get into the preparation business,'” Jha said. "So we spent the last 15 months saying 'What do we need to be doing to be prepared if we get another variant?'"

This shift to overall pandemic preparation — including stockpiling medical gowns, gloves and masks — is shaping public health officials' response to the next outbreak.

Another important factor in preparation is restoring public confidence in science. Only 39% of people have confidence in science, according to a 2022 survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. To change that, Jha said public health has to “go back to basics.”

“Public health did not get everything right in the last three and a half years,” he said. “I think part of restoring trust begins by … acknowledging the mistakes. And then the second is just communicating openly and honestly with people.”

He said a similar approach can apply to fighting misinformation.

“One of the reasons bad information took hold in this pandemic is we had an information vacuum in the early days,” he said. “So I have been encouraging people in the medical community — public health, community doctors, nurses, others — to speak up more and to really be spreaders of good information.”

Jha said while the U.S. is currently experiencing some of the lowest levels of COVID-19 infection, he does not expect that lull to continue.

Staying up-to-date on vaccinations and getting treatment when infected is the best way to manage this virus without disrupting the healthcare system, he said. A new COVID-19 vaccine will be available this fall.

“My hope is people just treat this as a routine thing they do every fall,” he said, comparing it to an annual flu shot. “Go get your annual COVID shot.”

And while COVID-19 is likely to stick around forever, Jha said, we can also expect more pandemics in the future.

Climate change is a significant contributing factor, he said, because warming temperatures are causing new diseases to take hold in places where people don’t yet have immunity. Humans are also pushing further into animal habitats, increasing the likelihood of viral spillover between humans and animals. Couple all that with globalization, Jha said, and we can expect another pandemic.

Other health officials, including former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, have said the United States is not ready to take on the next pandemic. But even with greater disease risks, Jha said much has been improved.

“We were totally unprepared. We are [now] much better prepared,” he said. “We are not where we need to be. So that work needs to continue.”