13 takeaways from Sanjay Gupta's Google Talk: World War C: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic with Karen DeSalvo

This article is a summary of 13 takeaways from Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical correspondent and associate professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine, on Talks on Google - World War C: Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic with Karen DeSalvo (Google MD). They both speak on public health and healthcare communication in the Covid pandemic. 

  • Always lean into honesty.

In his latest book, World War C, he discusses how we have reached an inflection point in the past 20 years between medicine and journalism. He recommends they work in parallel. Even though journalism is less transparent than a medical consultation, it is able to alert the public with generally important medical data.

  • You have to bet on uncertainty, so long as you frame it. 

Like poker, you gamble based on chance. Likewise, in science, you gamble based on scientific charting.  Often in the scientific enterprise, there are randomized control trials that do the same thing. To frame it, a regulator process takes place where the science is finally evaluated. 

  • Is it wrong if the public doesn’t know about it? No. 

FDA proceedings are announced after meeting finalization and immense rigor, it is popular culture for public display (similar to the CDC decision). It means that after these health organization meetings, the information goes worldwide and the data is made public. This shows a lack of public decisiveness that could be made during the meetings. 

  • Covid teaches you how to build evidence in medicine.

Scientific efforts show the strive to move away from uncertainty, but that does not mean ignoring it. Building evidence was shown during the Covid pandemic, it’s where corporate health was unsure of ongoing disease research. This may have willfully let the public decide for themselves. The Covid pandemic taught us that building evidence requires patience and faith in current knowledge. 

  • Show humility upfront.

We’re all learning together in a medical trial and things may change as we learn more. So why not err on the side of being careful, rather than projecting accelerated success. Most importantly, have the imperative to be challenged. When in doubt, stay doubtful. It may benefit the public to be skeptical of pandemic information, so that you have to outwardly prove what you’ve seen is true, and greater believe it. 

  • With subjective information, people can have subjective interpretations.

In 2020, the covid mortality potential was 0.5%. For context, the mortality potential for the flu is 0.1%. 

Here are 2 cases to understand what this means: 

  1. Covid is 5 times deadlier than the flu, every 1 in 200 people will die from it. We must maintain the safety
  2. There is a 99.5% chance that I’m fine. What’s the big deal?


Likewise, context is crucial to explaining data rather than allowing complete freedom of thought. 1 in 200 people will die. So in a country of 1 million, 5000 will die. That’s an entire town. Editorialize this objective data to show no mistrust or misconceptions. 

  • It's easy to consult with your doctor for the flu, but who do you consult for a mass pandemic?

 People tend to make trade-offs for observed information, often through consulting their community. That’s why such tribalism has formed cliques of anti-vaxxers with the same data. There is a lack of understanding in the underlying methodology and research, the true cause. 


  • Disinformation.

Democratizing information has tremendous value. Misinformation has always been there. But disinformation was made to be strategically false. Understand the difference and apply it. 

What’s the motivation for publishing information?

It is crucial to understand the intent of the data you’ve seen. 

  • Was it made just to create chaos?
  • Was it made to sow doubt?
  • What is the purpose?

Certain campaigns have proven to have strategically devised disinformation, to create data silos for certain communities to get vaccines and others intentionally not to. Such disinformation ambassadors need to be understood. 


  • Pandemic proofing.

 Myths of the vaccines causing more danger than the virus itself, from tracking chip devices to causing autism, need to be reconciled because they come from a deep mistrust of pharma, large institutions, the media, of the government. 

  • Shaming people about vaccine hesitancy is a bad idea.

You only fortify their beliefs if you disgrace them for their choices. Some people simply don’t know the logistics of the vaccine, the media/news/data outlets have simply not been an outreach for them to navigate through. 

  • The wrong information did not get spread during the pandemic, it already existed pre-pandemic

With a nuanced conversation, the healthy conversation can no longer perspire. In the US, this causes a no longer healthy society. Health must be optimized for leading health concerns such as obesity. 

  • O is for organizing family

At times, grim conversations need to occur when considering the life of your family members. When they happen, they make certain of a tragic outcome and are no longer surrounded by doubt or fear. Plan ahead for these viral outbreaks. 


  • F is for fighting for the future

Don’t survey the damage after it passes, prepare for it. That way, you can treat more proactively and prevent the jump of the virus from animals to humans. This planning ahead just needs to be codified so that we don’t have to negotiate every decision or let them be subjected to politicization. Convince the value of prevention long-term. 

In a modern society of pandemic preparedness and bioterrorism, an all-hazards approach is best. This approach makes sure that every harmful scenario is accounted for, and leaves no lateral/unknown spread.