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In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories from April 2021 in which they offer comments and context:
Experts say that the CDC’s new guidelines easing outdoor masking recommendations for fully vaccinated people could imply that vaccination is now just a matter of choice, and could undermine urgency to reach vulnerable communities who don’t yet have access to vaccines. “It’s fantastic that we recognize that there are safer and less risky activities, but everybody should have the opportunity to be able to participate in those less risky activities,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow. “And that opportunity is not equal if you do not have equal access to the vaccine.”
Although many experts think that the U.S. vaccination campaign may finally be winning the race against the coronavirus, others express caution. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, commented on a recent sharp drop-off in vaccinations. “We’re starting to try to vaccinate those who have been a little more hesitant or harder to reach or have been having trouble accessing vaccines,” he said. “It is really, really important that we do reach those people.”
April 30: Claim about COVID-19 vaccine misinterprets the meaning of herd immunity (PolitiFact)
Politifact labeled as false a recent Instagram post that claimed that herd immunity to COVID-19 means that no one can get the disease, and that herd immunity can’t be achieved because it would require 100% of the population to be vaccinated. “Herd immunity is not ‘everybody is vaccinated therefore the disease goes away,’” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Herd immunity is, in fact, that enough people are vaccinated that the transmission chains are disrupted and people who are vaccinated, or not, are less likely to be exposed.”
April 30: Cruise Lines Are Getting Antsy To Set Sail (WBUR)
Big cruise ships that comply with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be able resume operations by mid-July, but cruise ship operators are frustrated that they haven’t yet been given the green light sooner. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, said that the “CDC, in my view, was right to move cautiously. … It’s hard to image the CDC prioritizing cruise ships right now when we still have some schools that are closed.”
April 30: State data show ‘breakthrough’ COVID-19 cases extremely rare (Boston Globe)
Less than 0.1% of fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts—1,798 out of 2.4 million—have developed so-called “breakthrough cases” of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Public Health. “This is very good news,” said Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration that approved the three vaccines for emergency use in the U.S. “The vaccines aren’t perfect but they’re awfully good, and these data suggest that they’re working as well in the real world as they did under the ideal conditions of the original trials.” He noted that those who are getting COVID-19 are getting much less seriously ill.
April 28: India’s crushing COVID caseload the result of a ‘perfect storm’ of factors, experts say (USA Today)
A combination of political, biological, behavioral, and meteorological factors led to India’s current COVID-19 surge, according to experts. “It’s almost like India hit a perfect storm,” said S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography.
With more and more adults getting vaccinated, and with COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths decreasing, it makes sense to relax outdoor mask requirements, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science. He said that there’s “less than one percent trivial risk of any outdoor interaction, even maskless, as long as you have some distance between people.” He recommended continuing to wear a mask in crowds at events like parades or ballgames.
April 28: Why the COVID-19 outbreak in Brazil has become a humanitarian crisis (Harvard Gazette)
In a Q&A, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, said that major factors contributing to a humanitarian catastrophe in Brazil are a failure of leadership and the denial of science surrounding COVID-19. Other factors include income inequality, unequal access to health services and ICU beds, and comorbidities that disproportionately affect certain groups. “This crisis could have been avoided,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we were going to have zero deaths, but certainly we wouldn’t have the death toll we’re having now.”
April 28: Shadow of Long Covid: Why India needs to prepare for long-term effects of coronavirus (India Today)
Experts said that India and other countries with high COVID-19 caseloads need to prepare for patients with long-term effects of the illness. “Because Long COVID impacts so many different organ systems, it’s not going to be the purview of infectious disease doctors, it’s not going to be just the lung doctors, it’s going to require people with different specialization and different backgrounds of expertise,” said Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
April 28: Eating Disorders in Teens Have ‘Exploded’ in the Pandemic(New York Times)
S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said that spending time on social media—which teens have done more of during the pandemic—can lead to young people comparing their bodies to images online, which can in turn create “a downward spiral in terms of body image and self-esteem” and increased risk of eating disorders.
April 27: ‘Very strong degree of normality’ likely by year’s end (Harvard Gazette)
Experts including Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and President Biden’s top pandemic adviser, discussed progress made so far during the pandemic as well as challenges to come, at a Harvard Chan School town hall event. Harvard Chan participants included Dean Michelle Williams; Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology; and Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.
April 27: CDC Eases Face Mask Guidelines for Fully Vaccinated People Outdoors (Wall Street Journal)
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that people who’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 can safely walk, exercise, dine, or attend small gatherings outdoors without masks. Experts agreed that vaccination appears to be highly protective against COVID-19, and that the risk of infection outdoors is very low when people are not in crowded places. “We have unlimited dilution and unlimited ventilation” outdoors, said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science. “We know that the biggest single risk factor for this virus is time indoors.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker eased some COVID-19 restrictions and mapped out plans for further easing them in the months ahead—as long as the state avoids another surge in cases and keeps up its robust vaccination rate. Some public health experts expressed concern that the state may be reopening too quickly. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said that the state should wait until enough people are vaccinated to reach herd immunity before allowing indoor gatherings of 200 people, which would be allowed in one month according to the governor’s timeline.
April 27: Could regular testing of workers slow the spread of COVID-19 (TODAY Show)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, talked about how frequent rapid testing for COVID-19 can both reduce the spread of disease and, as workers return to workplaces, reassure employees that their coworkers are not infectious. Rapid tests can also be helpful in schools, he said. “Even in the midst of recurring cases and some variants, we might be able to see those schools be able to remain open, see the workplaces open, even if spread is ongoing in the community,” he said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has undermined science during the COVID-19 crisis, such as by ignoring pandemic-containment strategies including wearing masks or closing non-essential businesses, according to experts. The article quoted Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, who co-authored a recent study that found that regions in Brazil that implemented stricter measures had fewer deaths per capita than comparable regions.
April 27: Biden’s coronavirus success threatened by political divisions he pledged to heal (Los Angeles Times)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
April 26: 5 ways to make sure the post-pandemic recovery focuses on women (Fortune)
Women have overwhelmingly borne the economic and social costs of the pandemic, according to this op-ed co-authored by Dean Michelle Williams and Arianna Huffington. The authors listed steps to improve the situation, including expanding access to paid family and medical leave, making childcare more affordable, paying women equally, improving work/life integration, and valuing caregivers by giving them a living wage and workplace protections.
April 26: Pool Testing in Massachusetts Schools Has Not Fit All Districts (WGBH)
Experts discussed pool testing in Massachusetts schools, in which students’ COVID-19 tests are processed in batches, which costs less than individual testing. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said such testing can head off outbreaks. “The cost if we don’t do it is that an outbreak can very quickly get out of hand inside a school,” he noted.
April 24: Fact check: How safe is flying during the COVID pandemic? (Deutsche Welle)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, commented on how to stay safe from COVID-19 during air travel. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, he recommended wearing face masks throughout the trip, noting that two masks can help ensure a proper seal around the nose and mouth. He advised against eating or drinking if possible, but said if you need to, try to do so only when the person next to you has their mask on. He also encouraged passengers to keep their personal overhead vents on during the flight, and to make sure to wash their hands after using the airport lavatory.
April 23: Another boon from vaccinating millions of Americans: Jobs (CBS News)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, quoted
April 23: The TSA’s mask mandate expires soon. Airline industry leaders and politicians are calling for an extension. (Washington Post)
April 23: Michigan’s Outbreak Worries Scientists. Will Conservative Outposts Keep Pandemic Rolling? (Kaiser Health News)
Experts are worried that COVID-19 denialism and vaccine hesitancy in conservative parts of the U.S. could lead to new disease surges. In such areas, “you’re less likely to get vaccinated and more likely to do things that spread the virus,” said Abdul El-Sayed, a visiting scholar at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.
April 23: In the fight against COVID, Brazil’s surge won’t stay in Brazil (Fortune)
A highly transmissible COVID-19 variant is surging in Brazil and is pushing the health system to the breaking point, amid a slow vaccine rollout. Marcia de Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, said she believes that lockdowns should be imposed in hard-hit areas of the nation as soon as possible.
Experts say it appears that vaccines are helping decrease COVID-19 cases in Michigan and other states that experienced springtime surges. Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said he’s hopeful that the U.S. has dodged the full brunt of B.1.1.7, a highly transmissible variant.
New at-home rapid COVID-19 tests are now being sold over-the-counter at pharmacies. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said of the tests, “They are very reliable, if the question that you’re asking and the reason that you’re taking the test is, am I infectious right now and a risk of transmitting the virus to other people?”
April 22: With COVID spread, ‘racism — not race — is the risk factor’ (Harvard Gazette)
Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding environmental inequities in society. He noted that communities of color typically breathe more polluted air than others in the U.S., because they are more likely to live near dirty industries or areas with high automobile traffic—and that being exposed to such pollution increases their vulnerability to COVID-19 and other diseases.
The number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people in the U.S.—5,800 out of 75 million, or 0.00075%—has been “less than I expect,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “Far less.” Experts say some breakthrough cases are normal and expected. Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said it’s possible that the proportion of breakthrough cases will increase, since most people were vaccinated recently and haven’t had much time to be exposed. But he doesn’t expect much change “because of how effective the vaccine is, both at preventing disease and reducing transmission.”
At a recent Senate hearing, Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, recommended the continued use of masks on airplanes and in airports amid the ongoing transmission of highly transmissible COVID-19 variants.
April 22: Coronavirus: Vaccines and women’s health (Boston 25)
Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental, reproductive, and women’s health, said there’s no evidence that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can harm pregnancies. She said more studies are needed to assess possible side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was put on pause on April 13 after rare blood clots emerged in six women recipients. She also commented on social media reports of changes in women’s menstrual cycles after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, noting that more evidence is needed to understand the impacts.
April 22: What Do You Do When the Kids Are Still Unvaccinated? (New York Times)
Experts said that parents will reach different conclusions about resuming activities with unvaccinated children during the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on their particular circumstances and risk tolerance levels. Stephen Kissler, research fellow, noted, “For people under the age of 19, COVID is really not that big of a risk. I do think of it as on par with the risk from flu.”
April 21: Rapid COVID-19 Home Tests Go on Sale at Major Retailers (AARP)
Rapid COVID-19 tests for at-home use are now available over the counter. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has been a vocal proponent of such tests, called them an important control measure “to know if you’re infectious, especially before you walk into a hospital or nursing home.”
April 21: The Years We’ve Lost to Covid (New York Times)
Health statisticians are increasingly using a calculation called years of life lost to characterize the toll of losses from COVID-19. Years of life lost counts how much time victims could have lived if they hadn’t died prematurely. Those lost years represent a loss of opportunity to do things like raise a family, build a house or business, or be part of a community, say public health experts. “Life has stages, and we all hope to experience all of them,” said Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.
At a recent Senate hearing, Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, who has co-authored reports on air travel safety during COVID-19, said that the circulation of coronavirus variants makes it difficult to determine when masks will no longer be needed on airplanes. “Right now our recommendation from the science community is to continue wearing a mask,” he said.
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, speaking at a Senate hearing on aviation safety, said that by using two measures—either COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result—“it is possible for us to ensure that airplanes, airports, businesses, restaurants, and other public venues are close to COVID-free.”
April 21: 10 Signs Airborne Coronavirus Spread is What Matters (WebMD)
After recent articles in top medical journals backed airborne transmission as the primary mode of coronavirus transmission, several experts welcomed the acknowledgement. “The scientific evidence on spread from both near-field and far-field aerosols has been clear since early on in the pandemic, but there was resistance to acknowledging this in some circles, including the medical journals,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
April 20: More Signs COVID Shots Are Safe for Pregnant Women (WebMD)
Although none of the recent COVID-19 vaccine trials enrolled pregnant or breastfeeding women, because they consider them a high-risk group, smaller studies are suggesting that the vaccines are safe for both mothers and children. Pregnant women may still be hesitant to get vaccinated until larger studies are done, according to Julia Wu, principal investigator of the Human Immunomics Initiative and research scientist at Harvard Chan School, who led a recent study on pregnant women’s views about getting vaccinated. She noted that, until more complete data is available, the chances are greater that people will believe anti-vaccine misinformation on social media.
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine highlights the need for “other approaches in our toolkit” besides vaccines, such as a large rapid testing program. He noted that while vaccines will greatly limit the spread and severity of the coronavirus, it’s unlikely that COVID-19 will be eliminated. “What we will see is as more and more people are vaccinated, the threat that the virus actually poses to us is going to continue to go down and down and down,” he said.
April 19: Combating COVID Vaccine Hesitancy May Be Next Battle For Mass. (WBUR)
Doctoral student Keona Wynne discussed her efforts to convince people are who hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine with a positive, non-political message. She is making parody videos and posting them on social media. She is also helping to organize Boston Vaccine Day, a holiday proposed for the Friday before Labor Day to celebration vaccinations with events across the city, and is trying to make the day a one-time national holiday.
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, quoted
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, quoted
April 16: The Fast Lane for COVID Testing Has Opened Up in the U.S. (Scientific American)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed how the introduction of rapid at-home antigen tests for COVID-19 in the U.S. will be a crucial tool in helping keep outbreaks at bay. The pandemic “is still a massive tragedy every day,” he said. “And if we can use these types of tests to mitigate spread moving forward … that alone might be enough to ensure that outbreaks don’t grow.”
April 16: U.S. to spend $1.7 billion to detect, monitor coronavirus variants (Washington Post)
Commenting on new U.S. funding to track coronavirus variants, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the funding “is unquestionably a good move that will likely help with the pandemic and potentially many other infectious diseases as well.”
April 16: The Next Wave (Harvard Medical School Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed COVID-19 vaccines, how long vaccine-induced immunity might last, the possibility of future surges, and the importance of cheap, rapid antigen tests for at-home use.
More than 75% of the people who’ve been hospitalized, needed a ventilator, or died from COVID-19 have been overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. David Ludwig, professor in the Department of Nutrition, noted that behind advanced age, obesity and metabolic dysfunction are the biggest risk factors for COVID-19 severity. With many people having gained weight during the pandemic, he said it’s time to start talking more about how weight factors into health. “It’s not just about body weight, it’s about maintaining our metabolism, our immunity, our resistance, which we all know is a factor in who gets sick and who gets healthy,” he said.
April 16: Analysis: Hispanic, Black, and Native Americans have carried the burden of COVID-19 pandemic (News Medical)
A UCLA-Harvard analysis of 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia found that Hispanic, Black, and Native Americans have borne the brunt of the pandemic, both in overall mortality and in years of potential life lost. Jarvis Chen, lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, was a co-author.
April 16: Study attributes Brazil’s failure in the pandemic to the federal government (Rio Times)
In Brazil, public officials—particularly the federal government—failed to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study co-authored by Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography.
Most experts say they are not returning to “normal” life even after being fully vaccinated for COVID-19, given uncertainty about how much the vaccines protect against emerging variants and the continued prevalence of virus throughout the U.S. For example, Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said he would be comfortable with small gatherings of his immediate family. “But I personally will wait for herd immunity before resuming activities involving bigger social functions, going to theaters, or air travel,” he said.
April 15: CDC: About 5,800 ‘breakthrough infections’ reported in fully vaccinated people (NBC News)
Experts say that some “breakthrough infections” among people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations are not unexpected. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that vaccination “does not reduce the risk to nil, but it does reduce the risk to something that we can handle.”
Nishant Kishore, a doctoral student in epidemiology, described how he and colleagues at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics are using cell phone data shows to track people’s mobility during the pandemic, which can shed light on the spread of COVID-19. Recent data shows that mobility in the Boston area is at its highest level since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 testing numbers are dropping, but experts say testing is still needed because the virus is still circulating and large portions of the population are not yet vaccinated. “If we start seeing clusters of cases emerging in places where we wouldn’t expect them to, that gives us a lot of information,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow. “That tells us that we might want to look there for a variant of concern. And the more testing we’re doing, the more quickly we’ll be able to pick those sorts of things up.”
Vaccine misinformation and disinformation, particularly on social media, are major drivers behind vaccine hesitancy, wrote Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, in this opinion piece. He said that if social media companies don’t do more to combat the problem, “the consequences could literally be deadly, as vaccinations are key to stemming the pandemic.”
April 15: Vaccine etiquette: A guide to politely navigating this new phase of the pandemic (Washington Post)
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
Although some studies suggest that vitamin D may help people ward off COVID-19 or avoid becoming seriously ill from the disease, the evidence is inconsistent, according to Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition. “At this point in time, we can’t really draw any firm conclusions,” he said.
Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair, commented on a pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which began after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed rare blood clots after being vaccinated. “I think there is enough information to know that for people over 50, [the Johnson & Johnson vaccine] is safe, and I think they could have potentially lifted the pause for the older age group,” he said.
April 14: Empty middle seats reduce virus risk on planes, a new study says, taking no account of mask-wearing. (New York Times)
A new study found that keeping middle seats vacant during flights could reduce passengers’ exposure to airborne coronavirus by 23% to 57%. But the study didn’t take masking into account, even though “masking is the single most effective measure at reducing emissions of respiratory aerosols,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, who was not involved in the research. He noted that masking would reduce the amount of virus that infected passengers emit into the cabin and would likely lower the relative benefit of keeping middle seats open.
The pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine—which began after six women developed rare blood clots in the brain after getting the shots—could deepen suspicions among people who are already skeptical about vaccines, according to public health experts. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that even if the vaccine is linked with clots, its benefits still far outweigh its risks. “These are really low numbers,” she said. “Basically 1 in a million. We accept much higher risks than that any time we drive on a highway.”
April 13: Johnson & Johnson pause could hurt efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy (Sinclair Broadcast Group)
Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that a pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “will increase vaccine hesitancy because it feeds into people’s natural anxiety.” But she said the apparent risk of complications is “exceptionally low.”
April 13: Halt in J&J shots deepens vaccination uncertainties at a critical time (Boston Globe)
Amid a pause in the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because of a potential link with blood clots, Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said, “This is a rare but serious outcome that needs to be investigated.” He said it needs to be determined whether the vaccine was “causal or coincidental.”
April 13: What you need to know about COVID-19 variants (CommonWealth Magazine)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, spoke at an April 13 Massachusetts Legislature hearing on COVID-19 variants. “We can expect variants to continue to emerge because that’s the way infections work,” said Hanage. He said the best way to stop variants from developing is to prevent new infections, noting that each infection is like “buying the virus a lottery ticket,” and if the virus wins, it will evolve. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and the director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation, and Practice (EPREP) Program at Harvard Chan School, also spoke at the hearing.
April 13: India Seeks Pfizer, J&J Vaccines With Fast-Tracked Approvals (Bloomberg Quint)
India, facing a record surge in COVID-19 infections, is fast-tracking approvals for several COVID-19 vaccines that have already been approved in the U.S., U.K., European Union, and Japan. Even with the approvals, it’s not clear how many vaccines will be available to India, according to K. Srinath Reddy, adjunct professor of epidemiology and president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a health think tank. The supply “depends on the international demand and where those companies have made commitments,” he said.
April 13: The daunting challenges surrounding vaccine passports (National Geographic)
While vaccine passports could help open economies and allow people to travel during the coronavirus pandemic, there are questions around how the personal data within them will be stored, shared, and protected, say experts. There are also concerns that requiring vaccine passports could put people’s civil liberties and privacy at risk, and could create bias. Said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, “We need to uphold the concepts of equity and fairness and not use this as a tool that can lead to discrimination,” he said.
April 12: Biden, public health officials face crossroads on COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
The Biden administration is working to convince people about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine while also encouraging people to continue taking precautions until the pandemic is under control. “For those who are vaccinated this individual risk may be low, but public health is built on the backs of thousands of individual actions,” noted Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. “Even if your individual risk may be low the goal is to put the lid back on the widespread transmission.”
April 12: A Public Health Lesson for Ron DeSantis, From Harvard (New York Times’ Sway podcast)
In this interview with Kara Swisher, Dean Michelle Williams said that investing in public health is crucial both for keeping people healthy and for maintaining a strong economy. She also discussed a variety of topics related to the pandemic, including the dangers posed by variants, the importance of continuing to mask and distance, the vaccine rollout, health disparities related to disease prevalence and vaccine distribution, vaccine hesitancy, and vaccine passports.
April 12: Can Colleges Require Students to Get the COVID Vaccine? (Teen Vogue)
College and universities are considering whether to establish COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their students. Whether or not they do, college students should still expect precautions such as mask-wearing to remain part of their lives when school begins, said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Vaccination is going to be another layer of risk mitigation but it’s not going to be like a blanket ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card,” she said.
April 11: Could Covid-19 usher in the age of clean indoor air? (Quartz)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
April 11: Covid-19 Was a Wake-Up Call, Leading Many to Make Lifestyle and Career Changes (Wall Street Journal)
Many Americans are reconsidering what “normal” life will look like in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that while some will be ready to jump fully back into regular life, others won’t. “First you have to recover from being burned out,” she said. “It’s almost like you have to find that joy again.”
April 10: US is ‘weeks away from hitting a vaccine wall’: Demand for COVID shots could plummet by late APRIL and well before herd immunity – as just 59% say they are currently willing to get one (Daily Mail)
With roughly one-third of Americans indicating they’re not interested in COVID-19 vaccination and others saying they want to wait several months or longer to get vaccinated, data from the nonprofit Surgo Ventures forecasts that the U.S. will soon have a supply glut of vaccines. “This analysis shows that despite the general vaccine enthusiasm we are seeing now in the United States, things are going to get really difficult really soon,” said Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health.
April 9: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Few expect major help from Biden’s stimulus package (Politico)
Only about one-third of Americans believe that the recent stimulus package will significantly help them, according to a new POLITICO-Harvard poll designed by Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus. The poll also found that nearly three-quarters of parents and guardians would like to see kids back in the classroom next school year, a slight majority favor returning to the workplace after the pandemic crisis eases, and just over half support employers mandating that their workers get vaccinated.
April 9: The rise of COVID-19 variants may impact our strategy to end the pandemic (WINK News)
With highly transmissible and more deadly coronavirus variants circulating in the U.S., Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, said, “What we want to do is get as many people who are able to be vaccinated as quickly as possible, so that we reduce the likelihood that we come in contact with a variant that the vaccine doesn’t work for.”
April 9: Newsom’s plan to reopen California may be less risky than it seems (LA Times)
April 8: Walmart among newest vaccination sites across Massachusetts (WCVB)
Walmart has begun providing COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts. “It’s exciting to see that they’re onboard in a larger partnership,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow. Any Massachusetts residents over age 16 may also now sign up for a vaccine in New Hampshire, where an overabundance of supply led Gov. Chris Sununu to open up shots to anyone, regardless of state residency.
April 8: Rise of coronavirus variants will define the next phase of the pandemic in the U.S.(Washington Post)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, quoted
Many infectious disease experts think the worst of the pandemic is over in the U.S. and that strict shelter-in-place orders are likely behind us. The higher the percentage of people vaccinated, the sooner the pandemic will ease, said experts. Brian Spisak, a research associate at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard Chan School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said it’s crucial to work on motivating people to get vaccinated as soon possible.
April 8: Rapid Tests, in Time for Fall Surge (Harvard Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of rapid, inexpensive COVID-19 tests for home use will help control outbreaks and prevent lockdowns. He said that, even as vaccination ramps up in the U.S., a fall surge seasonal surge is likely because not everyone will be vaccinated yet, and elderly people—whose immunity from nearly-year-old vaccinations may begin to wane—could be vulnerable.
April 8: Race and ethnicity data on vaccination needed for equitable access, says Ayanna Pressley (Boston Herald)
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, speaking at a Voices in Leadership event on April 8, said that robust racial demographic data on COVID-19 vaccination is needed to avoid “vaccine redlining.” Dean Michelle Williams noted that race and ethnicity data is “unacceptably absent” on coronavirus cases, deaths, and vaccinations.
April 8: Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic Is Sought in Old Blood Samples (Wall Street Journal)
Researchers around the world are examining blood samples from late 2019, and possibly earlier, to determine when the coronavirus began to circulate. At Harvard Chan School, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, is planning to analyze hundreds of thousands of blood-plasma samples from U.S. donors both to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and to detect early outbreaks of diseases in the future. The samples are part of a “global immunological observatory” that he and his team are building, which Mina likens to weather forecasting for diseases.
Experts welcomed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s acknowledgement that the risk of getting the coronavirus from contaminated surfaces and objects is very low. “The most important part of this update is that they’re clearly communicating to the public the correct, low risk from surfaces, which is not a message that has been clearly communicated for the past year,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
April 8: Conversations on COVID with Dr. Drazen (The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket)
April 7: How To Talk About COVID Grief in The Classroom (Tech & Learning)
Experts say that it’s important to address COVID-19 grief, loss, and trauma with children, and recommended doing so in the classroom. Christy Denckla, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology, said, “By using direct language, by using clear language, we provide a scaffolding and an infrastructure for kids to start to communicate these words and these thoughts and to have a space to talk about it.”
April 7: Vaccine conversations can be messy. Here’s how to talk about the shots. (Washington Post)
In navigating conversations with family or friends who may be hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, experts recommend not trying to change people’s minds or attacking them, but acknowledging their concerns, asking questions about what might make them feel more confident, and sharing information if they’re open to it. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said to avoid becoming “preachy and moralistic.” He noted that if people “feel that they are being disrespected, they’re not being listened to, that their concerns are not being validated, then they will pull away from you.”
April 7: As states expand vaccines, prisoners still lack access (AP)
Prisoners across the U.S. mostly lack access to the COVID-19 vaccine, many are vaccine hesitant, and both prisoners and staff face an increased risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus, according to experts. Monik Jiménez, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, noted that both staff and prisoners need high vaccine coverage in order to effectively reduce COVID-19 transmission. “When you have a place with high rates of transmission, then the vaccine has to work even harder,” she said.
April 7: Power Up: Republican men are hesitant to get vaccinated. At least four GOP senators are among them. (Washington Post)
Some Republican senators appear to have qualms about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. One concern that some may have—that fetal DNA is an ingredient in the vaccine—is based on disinformation. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, noted that such religious concerns represent only a small portion of those who are vaccine hesitant. He said that many people, notably rural GOP voters, distrust medical science and have a “hostility towards the federal government.”
April 6: So you’re unvaccinated and want to see a friend. Here’s how to calculate your risk. (Washington Post)
In this opinion piece, co-authors Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, and Parham Azimi, research fellow in the exposure, epidemiology and risk program, described a new COVID-19 risk calculator tool developed at Harvard Chan School that can help people understand the ways that masking, ventilation, filtration, and other factors can mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
April 6: There’s increasing confidence vaccine supply can meet demand: Doctor (Yahoo! Money)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, called President Biden’s announcement that all U.S. adults will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19 “great news.” He said, “We are in a race against the variants, so the more vaccines we get into people’s arms, the better off we’re going to be as a country and the sooner we can get to herd immunity.”
April 6: What we’ve learned about leadership from the COVID-19 pandemic (PBS NewsHour)
Countries that were able to contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep public trust during the pandemic tended to have clear messaging campaigns and prioritized science over politics, according to experts. For example, in Brazil, where more than 340,000 have died, President Jair Bolsonaro spread misinformation and his government didn’t adequately convey health information to the population, according to Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography.
April 6: Deadline For Every Adult To Be Eligible For A Vaccine Moved To April 19 (NPR’s All Things Considered)
In response to President Biden’s announcement that all U.S. adults will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, some experts warned of the need to focus more on getting shots to those who are most vulnerable. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “Expanding the eligibility in this way is an easy way to add to the numbers, but it’s not necessarily vaccinating those people who would benefit most from the shot.”
April 6: Local Public Health Expert On BMI Based Vaccine Eligibility: ‘We Want To Have An Immune Response In As Many People As Possible’ (WBGH’s All Things Considered)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, discussed the rationale behind Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to people with a body mass index, or BMI, or 25 or higher. “Several studies that have been done in terms of the risk factors for severe COVID—things like hospitalizations or needing to be hooked up to a ventilator when hospitalized, [and] increased risk for mortality, as well—have shown that those who are overweight are also at increased risk, not just those who are obese,” Piltch-Loeb said.
Experts are debating the merits of delaying a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 in order to give more people a first dose sooner. Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair, said he thinks delaying the second dose could help bring an end to the current surge in cases in various parts of the U.S., as well as reduce the number of variants.
April 5: Virus Variants: How Mutations Could Shape US Vaccine Policy (Courthouse News)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, quoted
April 5: The intersection of Black women, COVID, and death rates (Boston Globe)
This op-ed, co-authored by Tamara Rushovich, a PhD candidate in Population Health Sciences, cited research she led suggesting that biological factors “at best play a small role” in sex disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. “Rather, social factors influenced by structural gendered racism are key to the patterns of sex disparities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Rushovich and Sarah Richardson, director of Harvard’s GenderSci Lab. “Black women in the United States are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than every other group, male or female, except Black men.”
April 5: Most Mass. Elementary School Students Return to Class Monday (NBC Boston)
Most elementary school students in Massachusetts returning to in-person learning on April 5 in spite of increasing COVID-19 cases in the state. Some health experts, like Lara Jirmanus, a fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, are uneasy about children returning to classrooms amid the spike. “We have to remember that we’re not vaccinating kids,” she said. “So as we bring children back into the school, it’s almost as if we’re in fact performing a massive experiment with our youth.”
April 4: Top 5 vaccine myths: Meet the top COVID-19 anti-vax advocates (Gulf News)
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
April 3: Why It’s Easier To Get Coronavirus Vaccines In Some States (WBUR)
Although the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is now predictable, some states are ahead of others in getting their populations vaccinated. Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, explained that the differences exist because some states have more robust vaccine distribution systems than others.
April 3: Mass. becomes state with most cases of new COVID-19 variant after Cape Cod outbreaks (Boston Globe)
As of April 3, Massachusetts had more cases of the P.1 variant of COVID-19—which spreads faster than the original strain—than anywhere else in the U.S. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that while vaccines are likely effective against P.1, the state needs to vaccinate many more people to keep it from spreading. “The high vaccination rates [right now] are not themselves sufficient to be protective, and if we allow more transmission, then we’re going to get more cases,” he said.
Health experts say that people vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear masks, because more research is needed to confirm whether they can spread the virus, and because variants are leading to spikes in cases in the U.S. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that while vaccines may greatly reduce COVID-19 transmission, the chances of spread are not zero. “We’ve gone through hell to get to where we are today and the last thing we want to do is keep going through hell,” he said. “Wearing masks is still pretty simple…unless you are in a small space with everyone being vaccinated, I would say err on the site of caution for a little bit longer.”
April 3: US Professional Sports Teams Promote COVID-19 Vaccinations (Voice of America)
Harvey Fineberg, a former dean of Harvard Chan School, said that celebrity sports figures could play a key role in combatting hesitancy about the COVID-19 vaccine. “I could imagine more campaigns that enlisted professional sports athletes,” said Fineberg. “One tagline could be: When it’s your turn, take a shot and let’s get everyone back in the game.”
April 2: COVID-19 numbers are rising again. Should you worry? (Boston Globe)
A rise in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts and Rhode Island could get worse—or not, depending on factors such as whether people keep up with mask-wearing and distancing, according to experts. “We’re at a careful point where it could go in a new direction, or it could go very, very badly,” said Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology. “Where things have gone badly, it’s when we open up too quickly.”
April 2: Cape Cod has 68 COVID-19 variant cases, including 88% of state’s P.1 cases (Cape Cod Times)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, discussed two COVID-19 variants currently circulating on Cape Cod. He said that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible and capable of causing more severe illness than the original strain of the virus, and that the P.1 variant appears to be more resistant to antibodies from a previous COVID-19 infection and somewhat reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. He noted that vaccines and safety protocols are important to stop the spread of the variants.
Cristina Alonso, DrPH ’21, who has been conducting research on COVID-19 in Chelsea, Mass., discussed wastewater sampling that has detected the B.1.1.7 variant in sites around the city. She said the finding shows that the variant is “going to continue to transmit throughout the Boston area and beyond. And what that tells us is that it’s time to take prevention measures seriously before we can all get vaccinated.”
April 2: A 4th COVID-19 Surge May Be Starting. How Bad Could It Get? (NPR)
Rising COVID-19 case counts and an increase in hospitalizations in many states suggest a growing threat of another significant surge in the disease, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that another surge is inevitable, but “it might not be national, not all at the same time, and the consequences will vary depending on how many people are vaccinated when it kicks off.”
April 2: Approval of at-home tests releases a powerful pandemic-fighting weapon (Harvard Gazette)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of inexpensive and quick at-home coronavirus tests for over-the-counter sales will be a powerful weapon in fighting COVID-19, because the tests are very good at detecting infections when people are most contagious and because they can catch asymptomatic cases. Even as the nation’s vaccination campaign speeds ahead, tests are still important because some states have relaxed restrictions and cases have spiked, he said. “There’s still 1,000 people dying a day in the United States with COVID—which we’ve become numb to—but this is still a massive tragedy every single day,” he said.
April 1: Experts say ‘herd immunity’ could conquer COVID-19. But is it even possible? (Boston Globe)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was among experts who said that a lack of clear data on the virus and vaccines makes it hard to determine the possibility of reaching herd immunity, which could occur if enough people are vaccinated or otherwise immune to the virus.
April 1: US faces pivotal moment in COVID-19 fight (The Hill)
Although the vaccination campaign is moving along at a solid pace, rising COVID-19 cases pose a threat. As of April 1, cases were up 12% nationally compared to the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some experts are concerned that states are reopening too soon. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called states reopening a “bad idea” and said they should “at the very least be pausing things.”
April 1: FDA Approves 2 Rapid, At-Home COVID Tests (NPR’s Morning Edition)
The Food and Drug Administration has approved two types of rapid antigen at-home COVID-19 tests for over-the-counter sale. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has been advocating for months for the widespread use of such tests, called the move “a huge milestone.”
April 1: Forget Anti-Vaxxers. ‘Hesitant Vaxxers’ Is The Group To Focus On. (Huff Post)
In trying to convince people to trust science and get shots like the COVID-19 vaccine, the focus should be on “hesitant vaxxers,” who may be apprehensive about vaccines because of misinformation, limited education, or negative medical experiences, but who may be open to learning more about vaccines, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said it’s important to have respect and understanding for those who are hesitant about vaccines. “I don’t think it helps to ignore or dismiss concerns,” he said.
April 1: Are We Way Too Timid in the Way We Fight Covid-19? (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted