Coronavirus news – August 2021

For the Harvard Chan community: Find the latest updates, guidance, useful information, and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) here.

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 August 2021 in which they offer comments and context:

August 31: ‘A pandemic tinderbox’: In Hurricane Ida’s aftermath, experts worry COVID-19 outbreak in Louisiana will worsen (USA Today)

Experts are worried that Hurricane Ida’s impact in Louisiana will worsen COVID-19 spread in low-lying Louisiana parishes, where vaccination rates are low, shelters are crowded, and hospitals are inundated. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, called the situation a “set of cascading consequences.”

August 31: C.1.2 variant has concerning mutations, experts say, but Americans shouldn’t panic: ‘I wouldn’t lose any lose sleep’ (USA Today)

So far, experts don’t seem overly concerned about the C.1.2 variant, which was first detected in South Africa in May. Although the variant has various mutations, it doesn’t appear to be “going toe-to-toe with delta,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.

August 31: A closely watched model shows that COVID-19 increases could be coming to Mass. this fall. Here are three scenarios (Boston Globe)

Experts say that Delta variant–driven COVID-19 cases and deaths are likely to increase this fall in Massachusetts due to factors such as schools reopening, people gathering indoors in cooler weather, and the number of people still reluctant to get vaccinated. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, said, “The public health forecast for Massachusetts remains so very guarded, despite our state’s nationally leading vaccination rates. Looking to the future, we can’t assume anything. This virus and its variants continue to humble the state, the nation and the world.”

August 30: The Hard Covid-19 Questions We’re Not Asking (New York Times)

In this op-ed co-authored by Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, the authors discuss several questions and concerns based around COVID: Should vaccinated people get boosters? Does everyone need to wear a mask? Are unvaccinated children safe in schools?

August 30: How local dispatches on COVID can help empower us (Boston Globe)

In this op-ed co-authored by Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, the article explains that we are not powerless in this universal race against COVID-19, and as long as we utilize the available tools and are able to successfully prevent cases, we are one step closer to blocking future mutations.

August 29: The Troubled History of Vaccines and Conflict Zones (NPR)

This article explains how conflict areas are known to have conditions that promote viral spread due to crowdedness and lack of sanitation and health services. Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, explained that it will be difficult to monitor new variants’ circulation in these areas: “In places where the health system is damaged or almost destroyed, surveillance is out the window.”

August 27: Study Examines Safety of COVID-19 Vaccine in a Nationwide Mass-Vaccination Setting (News Medical Life Sciences)

A study found that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was not associated with increased risk of a broad range of potential adverse side effects. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, both co-authors of the study, were quoted.

August 27: When COVID Test Results Go Unreported (Bloomberg)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that he worries that clusters of people are testing positive for COVID-19 using home tests without public health officials knowing. “We should be doing a better job of keeping track,” he said. “We should be planning and creating ways that really allow us to capture that information, for no other reason than for monitoring and planning at the public health level.”

August 27: Why Provincetown’s Response to Its Covid Outbreak Was So Effective (New York Times)

In this op-ed co-authored by William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, the authors explain how the public health response to the July outbreak in Provincetown taught a lesson on how to manage the pandemics next phase.

August 27: Coronavirus FAQ: How Do The Rules of 6 Feet And 15 Minutes Apply To The Delta Variant? (NPR)

Experts explain that the 6 feet and 15 minute rules are an approximation when it comes to distancing from others. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that other factors should be considered as well, including whether people are unvaccinated, whether people are indoors, poor ventilation, lack of mask use, and duration of exposure.

August 26: COVID, not Pfizer vaccine, more likely to cause serious side effects – study (Jerusalem Post)

Unvaccinated people who contracted COVID-19 were four times as likely to develop myocarditis than people were to get it from the vaccine. Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, was quoted in the article.

August 26: Risk of Heart Damage Higher After COVID-19 Than Vaccination (Cardiovascular Business)

Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was featured in this article that examines the risk of heart damage after COVID-19 versus after vaccination.

August 25: Humanitarians Push to Vaccinate in Conflict Zones (Undark)

This article by Madeline Drexler, visiting scientist and former editor of Harvard Public Health magazine, explores the many difficulties facing humanitarian efforts to vaccinate people against COVID-19 in regions plagued by war, violence, and instability. Harvard Chan School experts quoted included Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics; Jennifer Leaning, senior research fellow at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; and Claude Bruderlein, adjunct professor on global health and population.

August 25: Inconclusive review of virus origins prompts calls for more probes: ‘We have to get to the bottom of this’ (Washington Post)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, shared insight on the inconclusive review of the origin of COVID: “This investigation was never going to be able to nail it down, and it’s not remotely surprising that it’s inconclusive. Unfortunately, that means the partisans will be further entrenched in their views.”

August 24: Is Delta Unstoppable? (Harvard Gazette)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication discussed how the changes in behavior and community actions led to a decline in cases in India.

August 24: Many U.S. At-Home COVID-19 Test Results Could Be Going Unreported (TIME)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained that although new, accessible testing technologies have been helpful, data gaps can be dangerous. “We should be doing a better job of keeping track,” he said in an interview. “We should be planning and creating ways that really allow us to capture that information, for no other reason than for monitoring and planning at the public health level.”

August 23: When Medical Care Must be Rationed, Should Vaccination Status Count? (Washington Post)

In this op-ed, Daniel Wikler, Mary B. Saltonstall Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health, writes about the ethics behind providing patient care.

August 21: Narrow Opportunity to Use Biometrics for Fair COVID Global Vaccination Programming(Biometric Update)

Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member and director of the Better Evidence program at Ariadne Labs, quoted

August 21: Why giving COVID-19 booster shots to everyone in Canada is hard to justify (CBC)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted

August 20: Is It Time to Ditch the Plastic Barriers? (Inc.)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, recommends contacting your building manager to ensure they are updating the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems regularly, as air quality and filtration is vital.

August 20: Evolving threat (Science)

New variants are changing the face of the pandemic and becoming an evolving threat. “It seems plausible that true immune escape is hard,” said  William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “However, the counterargument is that natural selection is a hell of a problem solver and the virus is only beginning to experience real pressure to evade immunity.”

August 19: Tying COVID information to worker — and employer — well-being (Harvard Gazette)

Glorian Sorensen, professor of social and behavioral sciences, and former Harvard Chan School professor John Quelch—now dean of the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami—spoke at a recent forum about the social, psychological, and organizational challenges that workers and employers are contending with during the coronavirus pandemic. Said Sorensen, “I think all of us are realizing that there is no way that we are going back to the workplace the way it was before March 2020.”

August 19: Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 8/19/21 (MSNBC)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, featured

August 18: Vaccines’ protection against virus infection is waning, C.D.C. studies suggest. (New York Times)

New studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that coronavirus booster shots will be needed in the months to come because the protection they provide is waning. But some experts disagree that boosters are necessary. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that it’s unclear whether a third dose would help people who didn’t produce enough of an immune response from the first two. He added that the recommendation for boosters might undermine confidence in the vaccine because it could “add to skepticism among people yet to receive one dose that the vaccines help them.”

August 17: In a Handful of States, Early Data Hint at a Rise in Breakthrough Infections (New York Times)

Preliminary data suggests that breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people are becoming increasingly common. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said, “When boosters become available, barring arguments about ethics about global supply of vaccines, you should go and get a vaccine.”

August 17: What’s safe to do during summer’s Covid surge? STAT asked public health experts about their own plans (STAT)

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was among nearly 30 experts who discussed what they’d feel safe doing during the COVID surge—and what wouldn’t feel safe. Hanage said he’d prefer to skip going to the movies and would wear a mask if he did go. He also said he and his family canceled a summer trip to Iceland and vacationed on Cape Cod instead, to avoid potentially getting stuck outside the country if travel restrictions were instituted.

August 16: What It’s Like to Have a Breakthrough Covid Case (Teen Vogue)

Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, noted that the highly contagious Delta variant and the fact that a large percentage of people remain unvaccinated has changed the course of the pandemic. “As the Delta variant has come along, we’ve had to relearn a whole lot of new things to understand how well the vaccines do and don’t work as the virus evolves,” he said. “The more people who are not vaccinated, the more chance the virus has to evolve and to put itself against vaccinated people’s immune systems and outsmart that.” He added, however, “These vaccines are so extraordinarily good at keeping people out of the hospital from [from] dying. That’s what they’re intended to do—to save people’s lives.”

August 16: England’s Rush to Reopen Is a Cautionary Tale for the U.S. (Scientific American)

After England relaxed most of its COVID-19 restrictions, infections surged. Some experts think that England’s reopening could cause many unnecessary deaths, lead to more so-called long COVID cases in thousands of people, and encourage the emergence of another highly contagious variant. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that as gatherings increase, there will be “more opportunities for superspreading, although some mobility data suggest folks are being cautious.”

August 16: The Pandemic Has Suddenly Shined Light On Long-Neglected Indoor Air Concerns (WGBH)

Because of the pandemic, employers are increasingly focusing on airborne hazards in the workplace. Experts say one silver lining to the pandemic could be much-needed improvements to offices’ poor air quality. “I think this is the moment [that people will pay attention to indoor air quality] because everyone’s awareness is so high,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.

August 15: COVID Cases Are Spiking Again in Mass. Cities (WGBH)

Cities including Boston, Fall River, New Bedford, and Worcester are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, who has been compiling city case numbers for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said, “I’m discouraged. So much progress was being made.” He said that the majority of new infections are likely coming from unvaccinated people.

August 13: Doctor on COVID: ‘We have to react to the public health information’ (Yahoo! Finance)

Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, commented on early reports that the Moderna vaccine is more effective than the Pfizer vaccine in preventing breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people. In spite of those reports, he noted, “All the vaccines are highly effective in preventing the serious consequences of COVID-19 infection.” He advised against the general public seeking a booster shot until it’s recommended by federal agencies, and emphasized the importance of relying on interventions such as good ventilation in buildings, wearing masks indoors, and avoiding high-risk situations for COVID-19 transmission.

August 13: The State of the Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)

Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and an expert in the transmission dynamics of emerging infectious diseases, reflected on the epidemiology of COVID-19. “It’s a little disappointing that…after a year and a half, we still don’t have a good estimate of how infectious the virus is, but we know enough,” she said.

August 12: The psychological case for delaying office reopenings (Quartz)

Some experts think that businesses should further delay office reopenings given the surge of the Delta variant, both to protect public health and to improve employees’ psychological well-being. “A lot of people have somebody at home that they might worry about exposing,” said Jeffrey Levin-Scherz, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management—such as kids under age 12 who aren’t get eligible for vaccination or loved ones who are immunocompromised.

August 12: COVID-19 vaccine boosters could soon be approved for some high-risk people (WCVB)

With the FDA poised to approve COVID-19 booster shots for certain high-risk people, Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said that he thinks we shouldn’t be giving out third shots while much of the world hasn’t even gotten a first one. “Ethically, we need to get this out to protect people—No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, this is going to protect everybody because we’re all in this together.”

August 11: What to Know About Breakthrough Infections and the Delta Variant (New York Times)

New evidence suggests that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can carry as much coronavirus as unvaccinated people—and therefore they’re able to spread COVID-19 to others. But vaccinated people are unlikely to get severely ill or die from the disease. Getting infected may even provide a benefit. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that both booster shots and mild natural infections can increase immunity initially gained from vaccines.

August 11: Delta is raging. Is it really safe to send kids back to the classroom? (Fast Company)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that while parents are right to worry about the Delta variant, simple mitigation efforts can make classrooms safe for their children. He recommended that all children and staff wear masks, that everyone who sets foot in a school who can be vaccinated should be, and that ventilation and filtration in school buildings be improved.

August 10: COVID Vaccine Hesitancy: 90 Million Still On the Fence (WebMD)

Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, discussed which groups or people are more likely to be vaccinated, and which are less likely.

August 10: Increased Crowding Linked to COVID-19 Incidence in Prisons (HealthDay)

A study by Abigail Leibowitz, MPH ’21, and colleagues found that, in 14 prisons in Massachusetts, increased crowding was linked with increased rates of COVID-19. The study also found that the higher the COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding county, the higher the COVID-19 incidence in prisons.

August 9: Anger in the air: FAA cracks down on unruly passengers, here’s what’s fueling the fights (KXAN)

Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s  Aviation Public Health Initiative, said he applauds the Federal Aviation Administration’s fines of unruly airline passengers who refuse to wear masks. “Unfortunately, I think we’re going to have to continue the [federal transit] mask mandate until we’re able to significantly increase the number of people that are vaccinated and get a hold on the pandemic,” he said.

August 9: Biden is trying to appease conservatives – not protecting public health – by keeping a Trump-era immigration policy in place during the pandemic, a Harvard expert argues (Business Insider)

In this Q&A, Jacqueline Bhabha, director of research at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, discussed the Biden administration’s continuation of a Trump-era policy that effectively closes the southern U.S. border to migrants. “What is not appropriate is to have a blanket ban that really discriminates against a particularly vulnerable population,” she said, adding that there’s a suspicion that the decision is politically driven rather than health-driven.

August 9: How to talk to your vaccine-hesitant friends and family (Popular Science)

Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that conversations with friends and family “can be incredibly influential in health decision making and in vaccine decision making.” She emphasized that shared humanity should be the basis of these conversations.

August 9: How will the pandemic end? The science of past outbreaks offers clues. (National Geographic)

Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that until the coronavirus “is controlled or more limited globally, it’s not going away.” She added, “There is no one definition of what the end of a pandemic means.”

August 6: Provincetown’s July COVID-19 Outbreak Was National News. Now, Its Restaurant and Nightlife Operators Are Trying to Turn the Season Around. (Boston Eater)

Even though Provincetown was recently the epicenter of a COVID-19 cluster, the community’s high vaccination rate and efficient test-and-trace response hold important lessons for other communities, according to experts. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that cases were low when the outbreak occurred, and that positive rates in Provincetown are now dropping quickly. “This is a lesson for other towns,” he said. “If we keep baseline spread controlled, we’ll have a much easier time dealing with flare-ups when they occur. When flare-ups do occur, testing, tracing, and masking can help push cases back down, as long as vaccination rates are high enough.” Added William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, “Provincetown shows that it’s possible to take a pretty big outbreak and bring it under control relatively quickly. And that should give us all a good deal of hope.”

August 6: Data shows how rare severe breakthrough Covid infections are (NBC News)

If you’re vaccinated, the odds of getting severely ill or dying from COVID-19 are extremely low, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The most important outcomes [of getting vaccinated] are not preventing all infections, but preventing serious infections and deaths,” said 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.

August 6: Vaccine demand jumps in states pummeled by Delta variant (Politico)

Demand for COVID-19 vaccines is surging in states hardest hit by the Delta variant. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, said that hearing local accounts of the disease’s dangers may be convincing people to decide to get inoculated. “It’s seeing local bodies being driven from the hospital to the mortuary,” he said. “It’s suddenly hearing a local physician on the radio talking about people dying.”

August 6: As HIMSS approaches, plans for health tech’s biggest gathering are clashing with Covid-19 concerns (STAT)

The digital health sector’s biggest annual gathering—the conference of the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS)—was scheduled to begin on August 9 as COVID-19 cases were surging across the U.S. The run-up to the conference was marked by cancellations, strengthened mitigation measures, and second-guessing of plans. The situation is similar to the uncertainty that pervaded the beginning of the pandemic, when infections also surged. “We’re again in this situation, and it’s really disturbing,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Because the fact is there are a lot of people who are really sort of poised on the cusp of normal life, and yet the sort of superspreading opportunities that Delta is going to take advantage of is what is standing between us and that normal life.”

August 5: Health leaders: We’re asking American businesses to create #COVIDSafeZones. Here’s how. (USA Today)

This opinion piece urged American businesses to maximize vaccinations and to take other steps to ensure a safe workplace. Dean Michelle Williams was among public health experts, scientists, and former elected officials who signed an open letter urging America’s private sector leaders to implement #COVIDSafeZones.

August 5: This scientist says cleaning indoor air could make us healthier—and smarter (Science)

This profile of Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, describes his research on how indoor air quality affects human health and cognition, his work advising companies on ventilation and air filtration, and his efforts during the pandemic to clarify how COVID-19 spreads in indoor spaces and the best ways to prevent it from doing so.

August 5: COVID prevention tips as Delta variant surges (Harvard Gazette)

During an August 3 Q&A, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, spoke about the importance of getting vaccinated, masking up, and socializing responsibly to help reduce transmission of the coronavirus.

August 5: Businesses Are Showing Us The Way Forward With Vaccine Mandates, Says Public Health Professor (NPR)

With vaccination rates stalled in the U.S. and the Delta variant spreading, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said it’s time to mandate vaccines. Noting that large companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Disney have decided to mandate vaccines for their employees and customers, he said, “Businesses are leading the way. The dominoes are falling on vaccine mandates.”

August 5: Moderna says its vaccine’s protection holds through six months. (New York Times)

Although Moderna executives have said they think booster shots of their COVID-19 vaccine will be necessary in the fall, scientists have not reached consensus on the issue. Rebecca Kahn, postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that although it’s important to continue to evaluating the effectiveness of existing vaccines against new variants, “the priority needs to be increasing global access to first and second doses.”

August 5: The trouble with transparency: How pandemic is challenging the CDC (Christian Science Monitor)

The unpredictable course of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it extremely difficult for health communicators to come across as credible, transparent, and trustworthy, according to experts. “The pathogen has surprised us at every turn,” said Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication. He noted that it’s been a challenge to process the deluge of pandemic-related information, especially amid misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and politicization.

August 5: These charts show COVID-19’s resurgence in Mass., and what might come next (Boston Globe)

Experts hope that Massachusetts’ high vaccination rate will mean the state won’t be hit too hard by COVID-19 during the current surge driven by the Delta variant. But they urge caution. “The Delta variant has dramatically upended recent progress against the pandemic and is forcing a reset everywhere,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner. “Despite nationally leading vaccination rates in Massachusetts, we have to drive them up even further. We must stay humble and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.”

August 5: More businesses are mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Is that legal? (ABC News)

Businesses are on solid legal ground in mandating COVID-19 vaccines, according to public health experts. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, said that the rise in COVID-19 cases will push more organizations to institute mandates. “Businesses want to go forward and they know that their status quo isn’t working,” he said. Koh added that legal precedent allows states to mandate vaccines, although “no federal vaccination mandate has ever been tested in court.”

August 5: Experts deny claims that taking painkillers after Covid-19 vaccine causes death (AFP Fact Check)

Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted

August 4: You’re vaccinated. You got COVID. How sick will you feel? (San Jose Mercury News)

In vaccinated people, breakthrough cases of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant may involve sore throat, headache, and fever, but they are generally mild, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, explained that Delta isn’t dodging vaccines, but that people’s immune systems are a little slow in responding to it. “The immune system takes a little while to get its boots on,” he said. Because the virus can multiply so quickly, “it manages to copy itself before the immune system wakes up and stamps on it.”

August 3: Can the Unvaccinated Be Persuaded? (New York Times)

Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, and Ashish Jha, adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan school, former director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, and current dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, were quoted in this opinion piece.

August 3: MWRA waste water coronavirus data sends mixed signals (Boston Globe)

Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that waste water coronavirus testing has been a useful indicator of COVID-19 spread. He noted, however, that even if the amount of coronavirus found in waste water goes up—and if cases go up—those increases won’t necessarily translate to high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, since the vaccines protect people who contract the virus from getting severely ill.

August 3: Should I Mask? Can I Travel? What About Hugs? How Delta Is Changing Advice for the Vaccinated (New York Times)

The Delta variant has spurred breakthrough infections of COVID-19 in vaccinated people, although such cases remain rare. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, suggested an “outdoor first” strategy to avoid infection, particularly for families with unvaccinated children or family members at high risk.

August 3: How the Delta Variant Is Changing the Public-Health Playbook (New Yorker)

In a Q&A, Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member and director of the Better Evidence program at Ariadne Labs, discussed the best ways to talk to people who lack confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, the need for various forms of vaccine mandates, and why the spread of the Delta variant has forced public health officials to adopt new messaging.

August 2: Opinion: It’s time to admit it: The vaccination campaign has hit its limit. Mandates are the only way forward. (Washington Post)

In an op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, wrote that persuading Americans to voluntarily accept coronavirus vaccinations has hit a wall, and that mandates—among union members, in health care settings, and in businesses—are now necessary.

August 2: Lack of Progress in Treating Covid Causes Worry for Unvaccinated (Bloomberg)

Experts are concerned about a stall in treatment advances for COVID-19. “That anybody is still dying of this —because it’s a vaccine-preventable death at this point — is now unbelievably frustrating,” said Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “But if you take an unvaccinated person and give them COVID, right now, our tools are limited.”

August 2: Will this be Spain’s fifth and final coronavirus wave? (El Pais)

Future upticks in COVID-19 will be less severe unless there are further mutations, according to some experts. Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said he thinks the virus will slowly become endemic like other coronaviruses. “When the large majority of the population is vaccinated, there will be more cases, but perhaps we won’t even know it, just like we don’t know if there are a lot of colds in a season, because we don’t carry out systemic epidemiological vigilance, as it is not necessary,” he said. “The coronavirus that today causes a cold likely caused a pandemic in its day.”

August 2: The Health 202: Delta variant cases are surging, and experts say it’s hard to forecast how much worse it could get (Washington Post)

Many experts think that the current COVID-19 surge will get worse before it gets better. But they also note that new cases won’t lead to as many hospitalizations and deaths, because vaccination is now protecting many Americans. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, pointed to the example of the United Kingdom, which saw a huge spike driven by the Delta variant but has 57% of its population vaccinated. “In terms of the number of cases, this new surge in the U.K. was pretty similar in size to the one they saw in the winter, but it hasn’t translated into deaths at nearly the same rate,” he said.

August 1: FDA Under Pressure to Grant Full Approval to Covid-19 Vaccines (Wall Street Journal)

Schools, hospitals, and employers are increasingly mandating COVID-19 vaccines, but many are holding off because the vaccines are still only authorized for emergency use.  Because there are different perceptions about the risks of vaccines across the country, “If you’re a company operating in all 50 states and even internationally, it’s hard for them to move on the vaccine mandate and having a full FDA approval and authorization would make that easier,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.

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