From Ebola to COVID-19, epidemics are fuelled by fear and misinformation. Vaccines are refused; people protest unwanted public health measures; and in the chaos generated by traditional and social media, viruses keep spreading. So, how do we fix a global response system for epidemics in which many citizens all over the world have lost trust in politicians, scientists, media and health professionals? We need to break from the belief that top-down solutions, global approaches and biomedical interventions alone will end an epidemic or even a pandemic. We need to restart from the people and from local communities. Politicians, scientists, health professionals have to stop telling people what to do and they need to listen more to affected people. They need to understand and address people’s fears, concerns and needs in an empathetic and practical way. Because the world will stop COVID-19 and future epidemics only if communities are fully engaged as part of a collective response against viruses that represent a threat to all humanity. To that aim, citizens’ trust is key.