Monday, May 17, 2021

Michael Lewis' New Book on COVID Pandemic: He Thinks We Dropped the Ball on Sequencing

This month, book reviews and media tours for noted author Michael Lewis for his new book on the pandemic, PREMONITION.   He starts with ten years related to the background for pandemic preparedness and then on the first half-year of the actual Covid pandemic.   

Lewis builds his story around three iconoclastic experts who were both ahead of the curve and played genuine rolls in the actual response.   To my surprise, one of his major focus points was the missed role of advanced sequencing and how the US fell far behind some other advanced countries in the use of sequencing to understand and then fight the virus.

Lewis focuses on Dr. Charity Dean, a public health officer in California; Dr. Carter Mecher, a creative senior physician at the VA who was on federal pandemic committees; and Prof. Joseph DeRisi, a molecular biologist at UCSF.   DeRisi is profiled in NYT in June.

California's Near-Success Experience with Widespread Sequencing (Summer 2020; Failed)

For molecular biologists, Lewis focuses on ReRisi's record of creativity and adventure in microbiology, and later, Lewis focuses on the fact that California was close to launching a major sequencing program by the summer of 2020.  

Lewis gives us the build-up to that pivotal moment, including direct meetings with Governor Newsom, and then says the plan simply got lodged in some burocratic rabbit hole or another at that time (p. 276-77).   Lewis also gives a good deal of air time to the Chan-Zuckerman Biohub and its efforts to boost the early use of sequencing for public health purposes.  


Lewis gets to the next-gen sequencing and public health story on page 277 of a 300-page book, so it's the natural order of things that few of those who buy the book will get that far.


Looking back I see I blogged on this theme on March 1, 2020 and on March 28 and especially May 11.  It seemed obvious that fingerprinting the virus - which had hundreds of subclinical mutation variants - and really sophisticated use of big data could have helped make up for our deficits in contact tracing or rapid identification.  Lewis gives examples, like identifying workplace infections with disparate mutation fingerprints proving that the infections were not occurring in that workplace but elsewhere in the community.  (See similarly a Genomeweb article on May 15 last year.)


On May 20, PREMONITION was #4 on the Amazon sales list, #6 on the NYT sales list.


I haven't seen it yet, but there is a second May 2021 book on the pandemic, by writer Nina Burleigh, called Virus: Vaccinations, CDC, and the Hijacking of America's Response to the Pandemic.   Here.