‘Contagion’ Scientific Adviser Says We Should Have Taken the 2011 Film More Seriously

As the coronavirus outbreak ramps up in the United States, many are watching (or rewatching) the 2011 film Contagion to quell (or fuel) their anxiety. Contagion is about a virus that infects much of the world, much like COVID-19 is currently doing. Upon rewatch, Contagion has quite a few similarities with the current coronavirus pandemic. However, a scientist who advised on the film in 2011 said that it’s too little, too late. She believes we didn’t take Contagion seriously enough when it came out.

Luciana Bozan Barroso and actor Matt Damon attend the Contagion premiere in 2011 | Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

The 2011 pandemic movie is popular again in 2020

Tracey McNamara is a veterinary pathologist and professor of pathology. She recently sat down with Buzzfeed News to talk about her time as a scientific adviser on Contagion. Buzzfeed explained that the Contagion “filmmakers reached out to her for advice because she was the veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo who helped discover the West Nile virus.” McNamara also was part of the push to get “the Department of Defense to investigate the disease.”

The scientist isn’t too shocked that Contagion has so much renewed interest in 2020. But, she told BuzzFeed that she hopes people watching it now learn something from the 2011 movie. McNamara said;

If people are watching it again, and if federal and state officials are watching it again, I hope they’re realizing that the movie was really about what can happen with a novel pandemic threat, and I think people should have taken it much more seriously.

The veterinary pathologist shared that most viewers didn’t take the movie very seriously at the time Contagion was released.

“I wish people had paid closer attention to it when the film came out,” McNamara lamented. “… it really was a warning to the federal government that this could happen and you need to prepare.”

A pedestrian walks past a shuttered movie theater in Los Angeles, California | Mario Tama/Getty Images

She related the coronavirus pandemic to her time dealing with the West Nile virus. McNamara says it’s important for our political leaders to say the right thing. She told BuzzFeed:

You’re going to hear a lot of people making all sorts of proclamations and announcements, and whenever someone says something about a brand-new, previously unknown virus, I think, You should choose your words carefully. You may have to eat them.

‘Contagion’ scientific adviser talks about similarities to the coronavirus pandemic

The expert on Contagion continued her thoughts on the parallels between the 2011 film and the current public health crisis. McNamara said:

The other thing that really rang true in that film is when someone at a press conference asks the character who works for the CDC if this virus had been weaponized, and his response is, ‘Mother Nature weaponized it.’ And that’s also very, very real because that’s what we’ve been warning people about for 20 years.

She continued that people shouldn’t get too impatient to find a cure to COVID-19. The film Contagion shows a long vaccine development process, as well as a lottery system to decide who gets it first.

“That rings true because to get a vaccine to market and approved by the FDA, it’s a very lengthy process,” McNamara said. “… I think antivirals will be more important in the short term.”

Contagion director
Steven Soderbergh, director of Contagion, at the 68th Venice International Film Festival at Palazzo del Casino in 2011 | Dominique Charriau/WireImage

McNamara also told BuzzFeed what she thinks we all might learn from the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I think the lesson that will come out of this is we need to have another look at how we respond to rapidly evolving novel disease threats,” she said.