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 January 2021 in which they offer comments and context:
January 31: Florida Department of Health discusses struggles with vaccine rollout (WINK News)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
January 31: Pool testing at home for protection against COVID-19; some on board, others see potential problem (MetroWest Daily News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 30: Coronavirus mutations add urgency to vaccination effort as experts warn of long battle ahead (Washington Post)
Dangerous new variants may mean a that a higher level of herd immunity, perhaps 80% of 85%, will be needed to slow down the pandemic. “We will not be for decades dealing with a pandemic,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “The concern is whether it will be a year or three years until we can make enough vaccines against enough strains to get this under control.”
January 30: Coronavirus variant finding in Minnesota raises troubling questions (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called newly emerging coronavirus variants “serious causes of concern, but we don’t know enough about them at the moment to be able to be definitive.” He said the lack of certainty “should be a very strong impetus to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
January 30: Is a COVID variant already in Kansas and Missouri? Here’s why health officials worry (Kansas City Star)
Experts discussed the potential dangers of coronavirus variants. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, and Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, were quoted.
January 29: Mass. will offer more help for people struggling to get vaccination appointments (Boston Globe)
Discussing problems with Massachusetts’ online registration system for COVID-19 vaccines, research scientist Rebekka Lee said the system could exacerbate inequities because it can pose difficulties for non-native English speakers, people with limited access to the Internet, or those who aren’t tech savvy. “We don’t want this registration infrastructure … to widen inequalities in access, and as we go through each phase, the number of people who are eligible is going to grow and grow and grow,” she said.
January 29: The global line for coronavirus vaccines stretches back to 2023 (Axios)
Low-income countries are at the back of the line to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said, “Right now, it is the law of the jungle.”
Epidemiologists say that the longer COVID-19 spreads, the more likely it is that dangerous strains will emerge—and therefore it’s imperative to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. “We’re absolutely racing to get prevalence down as quickly as we can, because we never know what the next mutation might be,” said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School. Basic measures such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance from others remain crucial to protect against dangerous strains while we wait for vaccinations, experts said. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that as much as 80% of the population will have to be immunized. “There needs to be a firebreak to the wildfire of the virus,” he said.
A chaotic vaccine rollout and a distribution process that varies across states has resulted in wildly uneven access to COVID-19 vaccines among teachers in the U.S. “This is insanity,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “The current distribution process makes very little sense in a time of a national emergency,” he said.
January 29: A Massive Startup Is Challenging What It Means For A COVID-19 Test To Be Accurate (BuzzFeed News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 29: A year into the pandemic, where are all the fast, easy home tests? (CNN)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the benefits of fast and easy home COVID-19 tests and why they’re not widely available yet in the U.S.
January 29: Boston Public Radio Full Show: 1/29/21 (Boston Public Radio)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant secretary of health in the Obama administration, spoke about Johnson & Johnson’s forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine, the risks from coronavirus variants, President Biden’s handling of the pandemic during his first 10 days in office, and the bumpy vaccine rollout in Massachusetts.
January 28: Are We Hurtling or Hurdling Towards Herd Immunity for COVID-19? (PLOS)
Describing the concept of herd immunity, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said, “The herd immunity threshold is the point at which vaccination alone can stop transmission in the community without any other counters like shutdowns and masks. That point comes when each infection leads to less than one new infection, so the number of infections goes down.” Lipsitch and Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, both said that delaying second shots of the currently available mRNA COVID vaccines—an idea that’s been floated as a way to stretch the thin supply of vaccines—could slow or stall reaching herd immunity. Said Biddinger, “Herd immunity needs maximal immunization efficacy. The second dose is what it takes to be fully vaccinated.”
January 28: In Florida, with its large Brazilian community, worries over Covid variant (NBC News)
Concerns are emerging over the potential spread of the highly contagious Brazilian variant of the coronavirus, known as P.1, in Florida, which has a large Brazilian community. The Brazilian variant was first identified in the U.S. in Minnesota, in a resident who had recently traveled to Brazil, on January 25. “The importation of P.1 to the U.S. is not surprising,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Air passenger volumes from Brazil to the U.S. are large and the variant is increasingly common in at least some parts of Brazil.”
Many states are not publishing key information about COVID-19 vaccinations, such as demographic breakdowns of who has been vaccinated and where the vaccinations occurred, say experts. “We don’t have a timely, coordinated national public health data infrastructure to track how the vaccination is proceeding,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health.
January 28: Building trust in COVID-19 vaccines is key to controlling the pandemic. Here’s why some are hesitant (PBS NewsHour)
Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, and former New York City health commissioner, said that the encouraging news about the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines was offset during the Trump administration by “an extraordinarily disorganized” national response to the pandemic. She noted that vaccine hesitancy stems from race-based disparities and patient abuses in the past. To ease such skepticism, public health officials and medical experts must be resourceful and creative, she said. “I don’t think there’s a magic bullet here,” she said. “It’s persistence. It’s repetition. It’s showing up. It’s willingness to address in an open way, and acknowledge ways the health care delivery system has failed.”
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, former Massachusetts commissioner of public health, and former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration, said that a lack of investment in public health infrastructure has led to problems with rolling out COVID-19 vaccines both in Massachusetts and nationally. “I’m hoping that, as we get through these bumps and we get into the next phase of vaccination in the state, we can also invest seriously as a nation in making these systems better for future challenges,” he said.
January 28: Will global health learn from COVID-19 collateral damage? (Devex)
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted global responses to diseases such tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, according to experts. Progress has also been reversed on global health priorities such as reducing maternal mortality and preventing deaths from noncommunicable diseases. Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams said she hopes the pandemic will serve as a wake-up call about how “weak global public health infrastructure can bring us all to our knees.”
January 28: Raging virus, few shots: How Brazil missed its chance to secure COVID-19 vaccines (Japan Times)
Brazil has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks on the planet because of a series of missteps by its Health Ministry, which is led by military men with little public health experience, according to experts. Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, said that although Brazil has a long history of successful inoculation drives and state-funded production facilities to make vaccines, the federal government squandered these advantages. “It’s a succession of errors that began from the start of the pandemic,” she said. “And sadly, we’re measuring those mistakes in the number of deaths.”
January 28: Debate over reopening schools rages as CDC finds low COVID-19 spread if precautions taken (CBS Evening News)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, called school closures a “national emergency,” noting that new data from the CDC “supports that schools are not contributing in meaningful ways to community spread.”
January 27: Nursing and Nursing Leadership in Global Public Health (Nursing Economic$ podcast)
Dean Michelle Williams and Stephanie Ferguson, visiting fellow at Harvard Chan School, participated in a discussion on ways to ensure that nurses have the knowledge, skills, and ability to care for people at both the community-based level and around the world, to battle health care crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
January 27: Should you wear two masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19? (The Hill)
People in high-risk categories may want to try using a surgical mask beneath a cloth mask to protect against the coronavirus, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
January 27: After COVID, will the flu make a comeback? (Experience Magazine)
The flu and other respiratory viruses could spike after the COVID-19 pandemic eases, as people begin to gather and shed their masks, say experts. One way to address the issue would be collect blood samples from people across the country, to check for immunity levels to key viruses, according to Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. Then, if public health officials saw that collective immunity against a particular virus was waning, they could act before a big outbreak occurs, boosting vaccination and other preventive measures.
January 27: Inside the National COVID-19 Plan (Inside the Bubble: From the Frontlines)
On this podcast, Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed his recently finished work on the Biden transition’s COVID-19 task force, how best to handle vaccines and the schools, and what COVID-19 has taught him about the U.S. health care system, the nation’s politics, and its approach to death and dying.
January 27: COVID Vaccines: Ask The Experts (South Florida PBS Health Channel)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 27: Pandemic pushes mental health to the breaking point (Harvard Gazette)
Children, young adults, and frontline workers could suffer long-term mental health effects from the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts from Harvard Chan School, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation who spoke at a January 27 event. Chan School experts who spoke included Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, and Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health. Dean Michelle Williams gave opening remarks.
January 27: More Experts Call On Americans To Get A Better Mask — Or Two (GBH)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, talked with GBH’s Jim Braude about the importance of wearing better quality masks, such as medical-grade N95 masks, or double masks.
January 27: Spain running short of vaccines due to delivery delays (AP)
Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, quoted
January 27: Crushing the coronavirus: What’s Biden’s ‘clear, unified approach’ on testing? (ABC News)
Experts say that President Joe Biden’s plan to fight the pandemic will depend on how much he can build up the nation’s testing capacity. Part of his plan involves increasing the use of rapid antigen tests, which Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, has been urging for months. “The aggressive action [President Biden] could take in rapid-testing innovation really could help define a forward approach,” said Mina.
January 27: The “U.K.” COVID variant is in 19 Florida counties (Miami Herald)
A more contagious version of the coronavirus, known as “B.1.1.7,” is circulating quickly in Florida. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called the development “really worrying.” He added, “The fact it is so widespread in terms of counties indicates it is well established.”
January 27: Opinion: Everyone should be wearing N95 masks now (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, urged people to protect against the coronavirus by wearing N95 masks, which filter 95% of respiratory aerosols, especially if they are indoors. If people are unable to obtain these masks, Allen advised using a two- or three-layer cloth mask.
January 27: At-home Covid-19 tests offer promises — and questions (NBC News)
In this interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that rapid at-home coronavirus tests could significantly quell the spread of the virus. “If millions of Americans tested themselves at home twice a week, we would start to see dramatic reductions in cases within a month or two,” he said.
January 27: Worrisome New Coronavirus Strains Are Emerging. Why Now? (Wired)
The longer the coronavirus circulates among the world’s population, the more likely it is that the virus will develop mutations that can help it evade the immune system and become more infectious, say experts. Scientists are currently aware of three highly infectious coronavirus variants—originally detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, is worried that if governments and societies don’t do more to slow the speed of infectious, more dangerous mutations will emerge. “The fact that it’s happened three times already means we can expect it to continue happening,” he said.
January 26: Why Massachusetts Is Vaccinating Young, Healthy Researchers Before Seniors (GBH News)
In Massachusetts, the first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations have gone to health care workers, even those who don’t work directly with patients. “It effectively means that the elderly and vulnerable people who might need the vaccine first will, generally, be pushed back,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “We’re seeing just a huge number of people get vaccinated, who I think should, frankly, be way down the line.”
January 26: Doctors, Facing Burnout, Turn to Self-Care (New York Times)
A growing number of programs aim to help health care workers struggling with mental health issues—including #FirstRespondersFirst, a program from Harvard Chan School, Thrive Global, and the CAA Foundation.
January 25: First U.S. case of highly transmissible Brazil coronavirus variant identified in Minnesota (Washington Post)
A coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil, and later found in a patient in Minnesota, “is probably the one causing the most concern among people watching this,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. The Brazil variant and another variant originally identified in South Africa have caused particular concern among scientists because they contain mutations that may allow the virus to evade the effects of some antibodies to COVID-19, according to experts.
January 25: Combine federal funds to clear the air and reopen schools (The Hill)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, co-authored this op-ed calling for the use of federal funds to buy portable air cleaners for every classroom. “Improving ventilation and filtration, when combined with mask wearing, can help get kids back in school and keep them there during the pandemic,” the authors wrote.
January 25: Ohioans continue to contract COVID (The Courier)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 25: Experts welcome announcement that Moderna vaccine works on coronavirus variants, but concerns remain (Boston Globe)
Moderna announced that its coronavirus vaccine appears to protect people against variants of the virus originally detected in Britain and South Africa. But the vaccine appears to be somewhat less effective against the South Africa variant, so the company is exploring whether a booster shot might give more protection. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, noted that the finding adds to “the urgency for additional clinical trials regarding the best ways to protect people, including booster shots.”
Research fellow Stephen Kissler spoke with WBUR’s Bob Oakes about the state of the pandemic in Massachusetts, including the state’s recent decisions to lift some coronavirus restrictions, the possibility that a new variant will cause further spread of the disease, and the state’s vaccination priorities.
January 25: Will public trust in science survive the pandemic? (Chemical & Engineering News)
Experts say that the rapid evolution of COVID-19 science, mixed messaging from leaders, a torrent of misinformation, political interference in federal science agencies, and political polarization threaten to erode public trust in science. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, was quoted.
January 23: A pandemic playbook for a new year (CNN)
Several Harvard Chan School experts, including Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, discussed a range of pandemic-related topics, including testing, vaccines, and schools.
January 23: Minnesota on guard against coronavirus variants (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Variants of the coronavirus, including one that spread quickly across the United Kingdom, have been found in Minnesota and other U.S. states, but experts say that the nation lags in efforts to track these variants. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the U.S. does genetic epidemiology on just one-tenth the scale of the U.K. “It means that there could be some nasty surprises circulating among us that we don’t know about yet,” he said. “And we should be prepared to see them, if we start looking harder.”
January 23: Can Biden pull off 100 million COVID vaccinations in 100 days? Here are facts, data, and viewpoints. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said he thinks that part of President Biden’s coronavirus vaccination plans—to set up mass federally supported vaccination sites—should improve the efficiency in doling out vaccines.
January 22: Why more people are starting to wear two masks (Boston Globe)
People who are looking for more protection against the coronavirus but who don’t have access to high-filtration N95 masks could double-mask instead, according to some experts. “If you’re going to the grocery store or you are an essential worker coming in contact with a lot of people, I recommend wearing a cotton mask over a surgical mask which can catch more than 90% of respiratory aerosols,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
January 22: Immunologist says technology can keep up with COVID variants (Harvard Gazette)
Speaking at a recent Forum event, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said he expects that, ultimately, COVID-19 vaccines will be able to help win the war against the pandemic. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, also a panelist, noted that the use of masks and distancing measures may be needed for some time if it’s shown that vaccinated people are still able to transmit the virus.
January 21: Biden Coronavirus Plan ‘Major Step Forward,’ Says Former HHS Official (WGBH)
President Joe Biden has signed nearly a dozen executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic since he was sworn in on January 20. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, praised Biden’s actions. “Prevention and public health sounds easy, but it’s not,” he said. “And what you need more than anything else is a national leader who steps up, addresses the public with the unvarnished truth in an unflinching way and then points out the steps that are needed to get us from this terrible pandemic back to some sense of normality. So that’s what the president has done today. It’s a very important first step, and now we have to make it happen.”
January 21: Why are Miami-Dade, Broward vaccinating Black residents at slower rate than white residents? (Miami Herald)
Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine operation has steadily left Black residents behind, according to state data. The process generally favors people who have access to the Internet and who can make online reservations before slots quickly fill up. In some cases, reservation windows are announced on Twitter. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that using social media to alert people about vaccine availability is “mind boggling” and not grounded in public health principles. “It’s absolutely biased against low-income vulnerable populations,” he said.
January 21: State says second case of coronavirus variant found in Massachusetts (Boston Globe)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
January 20: End the pandemic swiftly: Engage the public, pre-empt Covid-19 vaccination campaign disruptions (Times of India)
This opinion piece, co-authored by Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication and director of the India Research Center, stressed the importance of addressing mistrust of coronavirus vaccines in India by engaging with the public and pre-empting potential disruptions of COVID-19 vaccination efforts. “When people see the risk of Covid-19 as a serious threat, and have a high degree of trust in science, vaccine acceptance grows,” the authors wrote. “Transparency and trust are foundational to vaccine confidence and acceptance.”
January 19: Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction (CNN podcast)
In this interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the game-changing potential of affordable at-home rapid testing for the coronavirus.
January 19: The coronavirus variant has officially arrived in Mass. Here’s what you should know (Boston Globe)
A highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. is now circulating in the U.S. and is expected to become the predominant source of all infections in the nation by March. Experts stressed the importance of taking precautions. “Concerns that the new variant could further exacerbate the pandemic in upcoming weeks should drive everyone to double down on prevention,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “That includes continued social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding crowds and getting ready for the vaccine when it is your turn to do so.” Other variants could also emerge, experts warn. “We need to do everything we can now…to get transmission as low as we possibly can,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “The best way to prevent mutant strains from emerging is to slow transmission.”
January 19: What can we expect from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021? (Boston Globe)
Experts expect the next three months of the coronavirus pandemic to be grim, then expect things will slowly improve. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that while new strains of the virus are still rare in the U.S., he expects they will double as a share of cases every two weeks. “That gives us just a couple of months to get ahead of them with widespread vaccination,” he said.
January 18: U.S. coronavirus deaths projected to hit 500,000 in February, experts say it was avoidable (Boston Herald)
Research associate Iain MacLeod said that there’s not much that can be done to stop another 100,000 in the U.S. from dying from COVID-19, in addition to the 400,000 who have already died. “Unfortunately for those projected 100,000 individuals there’s a strong likelihood they are already infected or will be infected,” he said.
January 18: Another coronavirus variant linked to growing share of cases, several large outbreaks, in California (Washington Post)
Experts expressed concern about a coronavirus variant called L452R circulating in Northern California that has been linked to a fast-growing share of new cases. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that a mutation associated with the variant “has previously been noted as being of particular concern in terms of diminishing the efficacy of the immune response.”
January 18: COVID-19 testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing (The Hill)
Some local health departments across the U.S. are choosing to cut back on coronavirus testing as they roll out vaccines, because of funding and staff limitations. But widespread testing is still crucial to help contain the virus, say experts. “If the tradeoff is testing or vaccinations, then that’s a false tradeoff,” said Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. He said that the country is “many, many months away” from having vaccinated enough people so that widespread testing is no longer needed.
January 18: The Trump administration gave more than $850,000 in PPP loans to prominent anti-vaccine groups (Business Insider)
After it was reported that five top anti-vaccine advocacy groups received funding from the Trump administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that to call the loans ironic “doesn’t do justice to my feelings.” He said that anti-vaccine groups are “likely to perpetuate the adverse impacts of the pandemic.”
January 17: New COVID-19 Variants Emerge in the US and Experts Know Why (Science Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 16: How to (Literally) Drive the Coronavirus Away (New York Times)
A new study found that opening certain windows in cars can create air currents that can keep riders and drivers safer from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. With the driver in the front left seat and a single passenger in the back right to maximize social distancing, keeping the front right and rear left windows open creates an airflow “barrier” between the driver and the passenger, the study found. Opening car windows “is essentially bringing the outdoors inside, and we know that the risk outdoors is very low,” noted Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, who was not involved in the study.
January 16: When will the pandemic peak in Mass.? Too many variables make it hard to predict (Boston Globe)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the slow rollout of vaccines means it could be spring before Massachusetts turns a corner on the coronavirus. He stressed the need for more vaccinators, more vaccine supplies, more certainty about the availability of vaccines, and greater vaccine acceptance.
January 15: Florida health officials want to scrutinize coronavirus tests. But why? (Tampa Bay Times)
Experts discussed the pros and cons of examining data that shows how long it takes labs to detect positive COVID-19 test results from specimens, which can indicate how much virus is present. Research fellow Stephen Kissler noted that such data could provide a public health benefit by pinpointing highly infectious people and prioritizing them for contact tracing, and by shedding light on growing outbreaks.
On January 15, Gillette Stadium became Massachusetts’ first mass vaccination site. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, and a member of the state’s vaccine advisory group, said that moving to mass vaccination can’t happen fast enough, noting the daily rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the country. “And the more cases, the more viruses, and the more viruses, the more variants,” he said. “So there’s an urgent need, not only to control the disease in people but to reduce the number of viruses.”
January 15: What Do the New Coronavirus Variants Mean for the Pandemic? (FactCheck.org)
January 15: Inoculation process for elders, essential workers remains a muddle as rollout for next phase nears (Cambridge Day)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 15: Mass. pacing in middle for getting people vaccinated (WCVB)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that one way to push coronavirus vaccines out faster in Massachusetts would be to adopt the U.K.’s strategy of delaying the second dose so that more doses are available to give people at least one shot. “If we sit around and try to get every individual the best immune response, we can at the expense of most people having zero,” he said. “That’s going to be a problem.”
January 15: States want to vaccinate more people. But data on who has received a shot is lacking (NBC News)
COVID-19 vaccination reporting varies widely across the U.S., with some states releasing far less data to the public than others. “We need the best information possible from a population-based point of view—by community, by neighborhood, by race, by ethnicity, and we need that in real time,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “It’s got to be reliable, and just don’t have those robust systems right now.”
A new variant of the coronavirus is estimated to be 30% to 70% more contagious than the original strain. Given the high transmissibility, experts are recommending that people avoid optional gatherings with other people, even grocery store trips. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, offered an example of what a 50% rise in infectiousness would look like. “In less than two weeks, you get twice the number of cases,” he said. “And in a month or so, you have four, five times as many cases.”
January 14: Researchers test common drugs in quest for treatments for early COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
Antidepressants and vitamins are among the drugs researchers are studying in the quest for potential COVID-19 treatments. JoAnn Manson, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, is looking at whether vitamin D can reduce hospitalization or prevent transmission. She noted that Vitamin D has been shown in randomized trials to reduce the risk of other acute respiratory infections.
January 14: Apps to Let Travelers, Others Show COVID-19 Status (WebMD)
Although some nations are making plans to allow travelers who can show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, some experts say it’s still important to require testing because there are so many unknowns about vaccination. “There is modest evidence about some of the vaccines that they have some impact on transmission and infection, but how much is unclear,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “They are certainly not completely protective. Testing would be more meaningful than the vaccine at this point.”
January 14: 7 Reasons the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Has Been Slow (AARP)
Reasons for the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout include a limited and uncertain vaccine supply and a lack of federal involvement in vaccine distribution. “For the vaccine rollout, as we’ve seen for so many other parts of the pandemic response, it’s been very much left to the states to take up the responsibility for making public health come alive on the ground,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “We need the federal coordination and leadership now.”
January 13: Bumpy road ahead for global COVID-19 vaccine rollout, experts say (Reuters)
Public health experts say that in order to gain ground against COVID-19 in 2021, it’s crucial to roll out vaccines as quickly as possible and to convince people that the vaccines are safe. “There was a lot of victory dancing and celebrating that we were bringing forward these great vaccines, but where we’ve fallen short is we’ve not paid attention to the operational discipline and competency needed to design and implement a vaccination program,” said Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams.
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that members of Congress who recently contracted the coronavirus probably became infected after spending time in a lockdown room in the Capitol, where lawmakers huddled as rioters mobbed the building on January 6. Lawmakers in the room were not able to stay distant, and some didn’t wear masks. “It’s highly likely—and I think probable—that this is a superspreader event,” he said.
January 13: K-12 education appears on downward slide as pandemic continues (Harvard Gazette)
At a January 12 Forum event, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discussed the damage done to K-12 education during the coronavirus pandemic. He noted that although many schools went virtual early in the pandemic, the latest data suggests that keeping schools open is the wiser course. “The balance has changed, and there’s a sort of mantra now that schools should be the last to close and the first to open,” he said. “That really is based on the absolutely critical nature of schools…but also because the data are emerging that at least the younger grades are typically not major foci of transmission…if there are significant control measures in place.”
January 13: What we know about the new COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy (Politifact)
The Trump administration will make all current coronavirus vaccine supplies available to states rather than reserving supplies for the required second doses, under a new distribution strategy that is in line with President-elect Joe Biden’s plans. Commenting on why the strategy is shifting, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that evidence suggests there is some protection from only one dose, “and that we are reaching astronomical levels of hospitalizations and deaths.” He added, “Vaccines in storage do not save lives, so [this] decision…is an effort to save as many lives as possible as quickly as possible.”
January 13: Sweden Finally Tightens Covid Measures After Being Slammed by Virus (Bloomberg)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 12: Biden COVID Adviser Pushes For Simplified Vaccine Distribution Process (WGBH’s “Greater Boston”)
In an interview with WGBH’s Jim Braude, Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, said that it should be as easy as possible for people to get coronavirus vaccines. “You shouldn’t have big eligibility requirements…in order to get the vaccine,” he said. “Yes, there will be occasional people who jump the line, but I think we can hold people [by] saying, ‘Look, we need to follow the honor system, we need to make this simpler, and we need as many of you waiting your turn. We need the people most at risk to get the vaccines first.’”
January 12: The Future of the Coronavirus? An Annoying Childhood Infection (New York Times)
A new study suggests it’s likely that once most adults are immune to the coronavirus, it will become “endemic”—a pathogen that circulates at low levels and rarely causes serious illness. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that one possibility is that the virus may wind up resembling the seasonal flu.
January 12: Scientists Warn Future Coronavirus Mutations Could Evade Vaccines and Treatments (Elemental)
January 12: With England in lockdown 3, it’s time ministers got it right on face masks (The Guardian)
In this opinion piece, co-authors Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Helen Jenkins of Boston University argued that England could tamp down its coronavirus surge if government ministers were more consistent in promoting mask wearing. “To keep the virus under control rather than boiling over, masks are crucial: they save lives,” the authors wrote.
January 11: Deciding Who Should Be Vaccinated First (New Yorker)
In this Q&A, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that figuring out who to prioritize for COVID-19 vaccination is an incredibly difficult task, given the vulnerability of a variety of groups, including elderly people, residents of nursing homes and other congregate settings, frontline workers, people with comorbidities, and hard-hit communities of color.
Experts say that current safety measures, including wearing masks and distancing, can help contain a highly transmissible new strain of coronavirus that is likely circulating in Massachusetts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “We have time to go until the vaccine is rolled out. … Even though we have reason to be hopeful in due course, that’s no reason to let our guard down now.”
January 11: CDC: No sign of homegrown U.S. coronavirus variant, but scientists need to look harder (Washington Post)
The U.S. has doesn’t have enough genomic sequencing capacity to be able to trace coronavirus mutations, at least one of which is now circulating in the nation. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that “surveillance is such that we’d not detect any such variant until it was already emerged and well established.”
January 11: A vaccine honor code will work (Boston Globe)
Distributing COVID-19 vaccines according to an honor code could minimize bureaucratic red tape and help hasten the rollout, according to this op-ed by Kate Miller, senior scientist at Ariadne Labs and research scientist at Harvard Chan School; Rebecca Weintraub, a faculty member at Ariadne Labs; and Atul Gawande, founder and chair of Ariadne Labs and a professor in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Health Policy and Management.
January 11: The Health 202: Recovered coronavirus patients should still get the vaccine, experts say (Washington Post)
Most epidemiologists recommend that people who’ve been previously infected with COVID-19 should still get vaccinated. Still, some say it’s OK for those individuals to delay getting their shots because it’s likely they have pretty good protection. “If I were over 70 or otherwise ill, I would certainly take the vaccine even if I’d had [COVID-19],” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “If I were 30 and healthy, I should not be getting it now (unless a health worker), but if for some reason I did get offered it, I would probably decline.”
January 11: When can we plan an end-of-the-pandemic party? Experts say July 4 is not looking good (Cleveland.com)
Although the pandemic outlook should be much better by summer, it’s likely that restrictions will still be necessary, according to experts. “July 4th won’t be a celebration of COVID’s defeat; if we’re fortunate, it will be a small reprieve in the ongoing struggle to bring this pandemic to an end,” said research fellow Stephen Kissler.
January 9: We lost to SARS-CoV-2 in 2020. We can defeat B-117 in 2021 (STAT)
In this opinion piece, co-author Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, argued that after a year of fighting SARS-CoV-2, the world is better prepared for a new variant of the virus, called B.1.1.7, or B-117 for short. The authors outlined steps for keeping the new variant under control while vaccination progresses.
January 9: Biden Backs Controversial Vaccine Strategy (Voice of America)
Experts are divided about President-elect Joe Biden’s announced shift in COVID-19 vaccination strategy. His plan is to release all available doses as soon as possible, rather than holding half of them back to ensure that all who get the first shot are guaranteed a second one in three to four weeks. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, called the idea “faith-based decision-making, not evidence- and data-based.” But Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said, “We have a crisis here, and acting on limited information is what you have to do in a crisis.”
January 8: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Public strongly backs Biden’s demand for Covid aid (Politico)
A new poll conducted by Politico and Harvard Chan School finds that a majority of people in the U.S. strongly back an expansive government effort to combat COVID-19 and to shore up the nation’s sluggish economy. “They are overwhelmed with wanting to get Covid under control and wanting to get their economic lives back together,” said Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, emeritus, who designed the poll.
January 8: COVID-19 testing: One size does not fit all (Science)
In this Perspective article, co-author Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, argued against focusing too heavily on the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the coronavirus. He wrote, “By supporting the innovation, approval, manufacturing, and distribution of simpler and cheaper screening and surveillance tools, it will be possible to more effectively limit the spread of COVID-19 and respond to future pandemics.”
January 8: Biden Plans To Stop Holding Back COVID-19 Vaccines (NPR)
Some experts emphasize the importance of vaccinating as many people as fast as possible against COVID-19, rather than holding some vaccines back to ensure that people get the recommended two doses. Said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, “As the virus continues to spread and as we begin to contemplate the possibility of the new variant or other new variants becoming more of a problem in this country, it’s a race against time. And the faster we get vaccine out, the better.”
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t support changing the recommended two-dose regimens for the coronavirus vaccines—three weeks apart for the Pfizer vaccine, and four for the Moderna vaccine. But some experts think the timing of the doses matters less than simply getting one shot into people as soon as possible. Said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, “My understanding is that the choice of the three to four weeks in the trials was made because they wanted to do the trials quicker and get an answer quicker, which was a very good reason to pick that interval. But there’s nothing magical about those dates.”
January 8: An Extra-Contagious Coronavirus Variant Is In The US — But No One Knows How Widespread It Is (BuzzFeed News)
Efforts to track a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus in the U.S. have been hampered by the fact that the nation doesn’t have a robust, centralized surveillance system for identifying such variants. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that the country’s lack of genomic surveillance is “a huge failing of our public health system.”
January 7: Commentary: Why you can, and should, trust the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines (San Diego Union Tribune)
People’s confidence in COVID-19 vaccines can be enhanced by increasing public knowledge about how scientific peer review, regulation, and surveillance work together to ensure the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, according to this op-ed co-authored by Victor DeGruttola, research professor of biostatistics.
January 7: Coronavirus Mutations Threaten to Worsen Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)
Two new variants of the coronavirus that are highly transmissible could amplify spread of the pandemic worldwide, complicate control efforts, and delay a return to normalcy, according to Harvard Chan School experts. Those quoted included Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health.
January 7: A Riot Amid a Pandemic: Did the Virus, Too, Storm the Capitol? (New York Times)
Some experts fear that the riot at the Capitol may turn out to have been a so-called super-spreading event for the coronavirus. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, noted that the risk for members of Congress will depend greatly on the ventilation in the room where they sheltered from the mob that invaded the building.
January 7: New COVID ‘Super Strains’ Could Disrupt Life Again (WebMD)
With a more contagious coronavirus variant circulating in the U.S., experts say that more aggressive action is needed to limit the virus’ spread and hasten vaccine distribution. “If we don’t change our control measures, once it [the new variant] becomes common, it will accelerate transmission considerably,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
January 7: A Slow Start To COVID-19 Vaccines Has The FDA Facing Calls To Change Shot Schedules (BuzzFeed News)
Some experts are calling for cutting doses of coronavirus vaccines in half or delaying second shots in order to more quickly vaccinate large numbers of people in the face of a dangerous virus variant spreading in the U.S. But experts at the Food and Drug Administration have opposed these ideas. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the FDA’s position reflects its role as a regulator, ensuring that medicines and supplements are safe and effective. “It’s a really interesting case where science as regulators see it, and science as public health in the broader sense sees it, might be sort of different,” he said.
January 7: Antigen Testing: Guest Post with Michael Mina (Parent Data blog)
In this interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the importance of antigen testing for the coronavirus. “If we are trying to slow the spread of the virus at the community level, we need a test that is frequent, simple and extremely accessible,” he said. “Rapid antigen tests can be the public health screening tool to slow the spread of the virus. … During peak infectiousness, the rapid antigen tests are essentially 100% sensitive.”
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the U.S. should focus efforts on curtailing a rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7, first seen in the U.K. “Anything we can do to delay the spread of this new variant virus will make control easier and will help us in the race to get more people vaccinated before this becomes more common,” he said.
January 6: Some States Put Residents 65 and Older Next in Line for COVID Vaccines (AARP)
In deciding between who to vaccinate first against the coronavirus—older Americans or essential workers —“health policy should as a first pass try to minimize the number of lives lost,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “My best understanding of the data is that the most lives would be saved by getting vaccines to 65 and over.”
January 6: Highly infectious coronavirus variant dampens prospects for summer return to normal (Harvard Gazette)
A more contagious variant of the coronavirus, originally detected in the U.K. and now spreading in the U.S., may mean that it takes longer to get back to normal life by the summer, according to experts. The variant, estimated to spread significantly faster than the original, “just makes this a much harder problem,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It’s certainly not good news.” He said that the spread of the new variant highlights the importance of swiftly rolling out vaccines and adhering to public health control measures such as masking and distancing. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said the emergence of the new variant means that a higher percentage of the nation’s population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
January 5: Widespread Coronavirus Variant Expected to Make Pandemic ‘Much, Much More Deadly’ (Medium Coronavirus Blog)
A new highly transmissible coronavirus variant, initially detected in the U.K. and now spreading in the U.S. and elsewhere, is “probably more widespread than we think,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It’s a big deal for a world that’s already stretched trying to control the old variant.”
January 5: Will the new COVID variant impact school reopening plans in the US? (Fox5 DC)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that even though a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus has begun circulating in the U.S., in-person learning should still be a priority. He stressed that schools should maintain strong mitigation efforts, including mandatory face masks, proper ventilation, hand washing, and as much outdoor time as possible, and that community spread of the virus should be kept to a minimum.
January 5: Frustration builds over slow pace of vaccine rollout (The Hill)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said the fact that only one-third of available coronavirus vaccines have been administered so far is “not so great.” He said that each state should move as quickly as possible through their priority lists of who should get vaccinated first.
January 5: FDA Says There Should Be No Changes to Recommended Vaccination Plan (AARP)
Experts say that any shortcuts to the recommended two-dose plan for administering coronavirus vaccines could be counterproductive to public health. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said, “What is the point of doing careful 500,000 person randomized controlled trials … only to say, ‘Forget about it, we’re going to give one shot and we’ll go find you at some later time. You’ll have enough immunity maybe to get through.’” Bloom said the main problem isn’t the number of shots available but rather their effective dissemination. He added that changing the dosing could result in people losing trust in the vaccines.
January 5: 5 Things Experts Say We Need Most To Handle The Next Pandemic Better (WBUR)
To deal with the next pandemic, experts recommend that we have a fully developed plan, an infrastructure for germ surveillance, adequate testing, more manufacturing capacity for pandemic-related supplies, and that we learn from this pandemic’s mistakes. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
January 5: Viral mutations may cause another ‘very, very bad’ COVID-19 wave, scientists warn (Science)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 5: Harvard disease expert calls more contagious coronavirus variant a ‘really big deal’ (Boston.com)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that there’s “good reason to expect” that a highly contagious coronavirus variant that has spread rapidly in the U.K. will spread elsewhere as well. He said the new variant “emphasizes the need for as rapid as possible vaccination. It also, in my view, means that we should focus our control efforts very much on that variant.”
January 5: Answering your questions about securing your second COVID-19 vaccine dose (WINK News)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if people experience delays in getting their second COVID-19 vaccine. “On biological grounds, there’s no reason to believe that a longer interval would make the second dose worse, it might even make it better” in terms of getting a good immune response, he said.
Logistical issues have slowed the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, say experts. Exhausted hospital workers and public health officials are “being asked to ramp up the most ambitious vaccine program the country has ever seen,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration. He added that although Congress allocated $8 billion for vaccine distribution, it’s not enough and it should have arrived months ago. He criticized the lack of federal leadership and the politicization of public health.
January 4: What vaccines mean for the return of travel (National Geographic)
Dean Michelle Williams quoted
January 4: Massachusetts Debuts Interactive COVID Dashboard, Confirms 375,000th Case (NBC Boston)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that the Massachusetts COVID-19 data dashboard “has a really great wealth of data that lots of other states don’t have.”
January 1: Why The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Has Gotten Off To A Slow Start (NPR)
One of the reasons for the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is that not enough funding has been provided to local health care workers responsible for vaccinating people, according to Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. He said the new COVID relief bill will help “shore up a public health infrastructure that’s been hollowed out for far too long. But the public health systems at the state and local level need much more support going forward if we’re going to return to any sense of normal soon.”
January 1: SWFL hopes to control pandemic by continuing the vaccine rollout (Wink News)
Research fellow Stephen Kissler discussed the need to vaccinate roughly two-thirds of the population for the coronavirus to reach a high level of herd immunity. And with a new, more contagious strain of the virus circulating, he said, “The virus is a little bit more difficult to keep control of. And so it essentially means that more effort is going to be needed to, in essence, flatten this curve.”