As the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, the 2011 pandemic movie “Contagion” has recaptured the public’s interest. Now, a health expert consulted for the film says parts of the movie’s plot should’ve served as a warning about future outbreaks.
The film has been praised by some in the scientific community ― then and now ― for being accurate, albeit extreme. The plot follows the fictional MEV-1 virus, which was rapidly transmitted to people around the world as authorities sought to stem the pandemic, panic and flow of misinformation.
Tracey McNamara, a veterinary pathologist and professor in pathology at Western University of Health Sciences, assisted “Contagion” filmmakers when they made the movie a decade ago. Last week, she told BuzzFeed News she was not surprised the movie had become popular again.
“The movie really rang true, and now that we’re dealing with coronavirus, it really captured when you’re dealing with something unknown,” 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,” she added. ”I wish people had paid closer attention to it when the film came out because it really was a warning to the federal government that this could happen and you need to prepare.”
McNamara said the filmmakers tried to make the fictional virus as realistic as possible. She was hired in light of her part in the discovery of the West Nile virus outbreak while working as a veterinarian at the Bronx Zoo. She also played a central role in pushing the government to investigate.
McNamara highlighted two notable tenets of “Contagion” as particularly relevant to the current outbreak, which has over 110,000 confirmed cases globally, but has not been classified as a pandemic: The disease’s rapid spread via human contact and the lengthy process to produce a vaccine.
In the movie, Kate Winslet’s character, who works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warns local officials that the danger of the virus’ spread lay in the fact that the average person touches his or her face thousands of times a day while also intermittently touching other surfaces, such as doorknobs, water fountains, elevator buttons and other people.
In recent weeks, public health officials, politicians and the president have all urged people to refrain from touching their faces, strive to hand-wash regularly and limit personal contact in a bid to slow the person-to-person spread of COVID-19.
Top health experts have also warned a vaccine might take 18 months.
“In the film, it took a long time to develop a vaccine that wasn’t immediately available, and then they had to have a lottery to see if you would even get the vaccine,” McNamara told BuzzFeed. “That rings true because to get a vaccine to market and approved by the FDA, it’s a very lengthy process. I believe that, yes, people are working hard on the vaccine for the coronavirus, but I think antivirals will be more important in the short term.”
On Sunday, “Contagion,” which also stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law, was ranked at No. 5 on iTunes Movie Charts despite its release a decade ago. Warner Bros. said the film was listed at No. 270 of its catalog titles until the start of 2020 when it jumped to No. 2 (behind only the Harry Potter movies), per The New York Times.
At the time of the movie’s original release, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading voice in the current coronavirus response, described “Contagion” as an “extremely rare possibility of a worst-case scenario.” However, he also noted it was one of “one of the most accurate movies I have seen on infectious disease outbreaks of any type.”
One of the film’s producers, Michael Shamberg, told BuzzFeed the movie was not intended to scare audiences; it was aimed at scaring “people into taking precautions” and to “scare the infrastructure into doing the right thing.”