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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 March 2021 in which they offer comments and context:
In this opinion piece, 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, argued that the best way to promote vaccination is to focus on approaches that trigger people’s “prosocial” behaviors—wanting to get vaccinated because it’s satisfying to help society as a whole—rather than focusing on vaccine certificates. He wrote that using vaccine certificates to shun people from businesses, schools, or other organizations is a punishment-based approach that could lead to resentment, polarization, and discrimination.
March 31: Prof. Wayne Koff : “AI can help us design better, safer and faster vaccines” (European Science-Media Hub)
In this Q&A, Wayne Koff, CEO of the Human Immunomics Initiative, founding president and CEO of the Human Vaccines Project, and adjunct professor of epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, said that artificial intelligence “can help analyze, draw conclusions and generate new research hypotheses from increasingly massive datasets, and can help speed up the process of running scientific studies and generating conclusions from them, including new ways of developing safe and effective vaccines against deadly diseases.”
March 31: 7 Hard and Crucial Lessons of Covid-19 (Elemental)
Among several vital lessons we can take from the COVID-19 pandemic, one is that in-school learning is crucial to the normal functioning of our society. Dean Michelle Williams pointed out that school closures have had a disproportionately negative impact on women, many of whom have left the workforce either due to layoffs or childcare responsibilities. The pandemic also highlighted the continuing social inequities in U.S. society. “Black and Brown people have not only suffered disproportionately from the disease itself but have also been hit especially hard economically,” said Williams.
March 30: Vaccines are about to become a free-for-all. Here’s how to ensure it’s done equitably. (Washington Post)
This opinion piece, co-authored by Dean Michelle Williams, called for the equitable allocation of vaccines to help mitigate the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities, and to boost overall public health. “Promoting equity and protecting public health are flip sides of the same coin,” the authors wrote. “Meaningful herd immunity is not achieved by simply vaccinating the largest number of people, but by vaccinating more of those people who are most likely to get and spread the infection.”
March 30: Recovering from the Emotional Challenges of the Pandemic (New Yorker)
The prolonged period of stress and trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic could result in long-term and pervasive mental health effects, said Archana Basu, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a research scientist in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Epidemiology, in this Q&A.
March 30: Five upgrades to make now to COVID vaccine delivery (The Hill)
Millions more Americans will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in the coming weeks, but “opening eligibility does not lead to better access,” according to this opinion piece co-authored by two experts from Ariadne Labs‘ Better Evidence project, Rebecca Weintraub, director, and Julie Rosenberg, assistant director of project management. The co-authors recommended eliminating the requirement to present identification; simplifying appointment scheduling; allowing group registration for families, households, or other groups; expanding opportunities for users to access vaccination sites; and engaging communities, local leaders, and employers in communication and outreach about vaccination.
March 30: Why indoor spaces are still prime COVID hotspots (Nature)
Experts discussed the importance of keeping indoor spaces well-ventilated to decrease the spread of COVID-19, various methods for doing so, and the challenges involved. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, was quoted.
March 29: The CDC’s $10 Billion School COVID Testing Plan: What to Know (Tech & Learning)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed a Biden administration plan for frequent COVID-19 testing in schools, aimed at keeping schools open for in-person learning. Mina noted that quick and frequent testing will help combat virus variants. “If vaccines aren’t doing all that we’re hoping that they will, this is going to be increasingly helpful,” he said.
March 29: US Faces ‘Impending Doom’ Of Fourth COVID Surge Unless Action Taken Now, CDC Director Says (WGBH’s Greater Boston)
In this television interview, Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that he shares the concern of Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who warned in a briefing about a possible fourth surge of COVID-19. “We are at this critical juncture in the pandemic where we can see the shore, but we’ve been content to just tread water,” he said. “What we really need to do is gather our resolve and swim to shore, and that means continuing with our public health guidance around masking, maintaining common sense public health measures around physical distancing, and really increasing the rate of vaccination.”
March 29: Test and Travel Strategies Might Be Beneficial (Vax Before Travel)
A new computer simulation found that rapid coronavirus tests could detect almost 90% of infectious travelers at airports. First author Mathew Kiang, fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, said the model found that same-day rapid testing was almost as good as results from the more sensitive PCR test.
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
March 28: Cases in Florida, a national Covid bellwether, are rising — especially among younger people. (New York Times)
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Florida, and a more contagious variant, B.1.1.7, is rising exponentially and accounts for a greater proportion of cases than in any other state. “Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
March 27: How Minnesota confirmed the nation’s first Brazilian COVID-19 variant case (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, quoted
March 26: Doctors warn against complacency in life after COVID-19 vaccines (WINK News)
Even though more and more people are receiving COVID-19 vaccines, Stephen Kissler, research fellow, warned against becoming complacent about the virus. “We don’t know what the variants will do,” he said. “We don’t know what new variants will emerge. Each of them undermines our ability to control the pandemic in some way and many times in different ways.”
March 26: What Should We Make Of The AstraZeneca Vaccine? (WGBH)
In this TV interview, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that, with vaccinations increasing, the U.S. could see COVID-19 case numbers drop—but only if people continue to adhere to safety measures, since case counts are still on the high side and variants are circulating. He also said that Astra Zeneca—by failing to initially include the most up-to-date data in a March 22 announcement on the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine in a U.S. trial—“managed to … instill a lack of trust in probably a pretty good vaccine.”
March 26: What will returning to normal feel like? (Boston.com)
As the pandemic eases, some people will return to pre-pandemic normalcy relatively quickly, but others may struggle, according to experts. Some people “are excited and feeling hopeful about things going back to normal and being freed up,” said Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology. “On the other hand, it’s normal that people are feeling a lot of other feelings; it’s not just … universal joy. People might feel great anxiety and stress, as well.”
Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate, put his NFL career on hold last year to work as an orderly in a long-term care facility near Montreal to help fight COVID-19. Duvernay-Tardif, who is also a student at Harvard Chan School, explained his move: “I didn’t want to regret that decision 10 years from now, looking back at 2020, thinking I was spreading the virus instead of trying to fight it.”
March 25: Is ‘Natural Immunity’ Better Than A Coronavirus Vaccine? (The Daily Caller)
Although studies suggest that people gain some protection against COVID-19 after acquiring the disease, vaccines are likely to provide an even stronger level of protection, say experts. Speaking about people with so-called “natural immunity,” William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “Nobody knows exactly how protected they are. Immunity varies from person to person, and wanes somewhat over time. Reinfection is certainly possible.” He added, “Multiple studies show that vaccination [among those who have been previously infected] produces greater immunity than they have already.”
March 25: The Uncertain Science Behind Vaccine Passports (Bloomberg)
Using vaccination status as the metric to allow travel amid the coronavirus pandemic is problematic because there are questions regarding how effective and long-lasting various vaccines will turn out to be, as well as how well they stop transmission, say experts. “Addressing the challenges of vaccine passports is like peeling an onion,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “There are just many, many layers that you don’t necessarily consider when you start thinking about the issue. There could be many unintended consequences.”
March 25: New Jersey’s vaccine rollout is mostly working. In Pennsylvania, it’s more complicated. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Pennsylvania is ranking in the bottom half of U.S. states in terms of getting people efficiently vaccinated for COVID-19. Problems included lack of a centralized vaccination registration system and lack of a phone hotline for residents without Internet access. “This is really where a one-government approach—whether it’s federal and state leaders, or state and local leaders, or all of the above—is so important,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health.
March 25: COVID-19 vaccine protects mothers — and their newborns (Harvard Gazette)
The new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines appear to be highly effective in producing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in pregnant and lactating women, and also appear to confer protective immunity to newborns through breast milk and the placenta, according to a new study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. Co-senior author of the study Galit Alter, a core member of the Ragon Institute and professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan School, was quoted.
March 24: A program that boosted rapid testing in Canada will try to do the same in the U.S. (New York Times)
A group of researchers that helped ramp up rapid coronavirus testing at Canadian companies is hoping to do the same in the U.S., working with U.S. partners. The team, called the U.S. Rapid Action Consortium, hopes to recruit 12 companies to screen asymptomatic employees with rapid antigen tests on a routine basis. One of the group’s U.S. partners is the COVID Collaborative, a coalition of experts in health, education, and the economy that was co-founded by Harvard Chan Dean Michelle Williams.
March 24: Why It Pays to Think Outside the Box on Coronavirus Tests (New York Times)
A new analysis led by Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Broad Institute, found that if schools, businesses, and other organizations dedicated a substantial portion of their coronavirus testing to people in the surrounding community, they could reduce COVID-19 cases among their members by as much as 25%. “It’s natural in an outbreak for people to become self-serving, self-focused,” she said, but added, “If you’ve been in enough outbreaks you just understand that testing in a box doesn’t make sense. These things are communicable, and they’re coming in from the community.”
March 24: Is This Joker Right That ‘COVID’s Over, Baby’? (Snopes)
A flag-waving man dressed as the Joker character from Batman recently declared to revelers in Miami that “COVID is over, baby!”—a false claim, according to this Snopes article. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, noted that the amorphous and uncertain timeline for when the pandemic will end is a challenge “because it presents a more complicated calculus of what people should be doing in their behavior.”
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, was among several experts who answered questions about what people should and shouldn’t do once they’re fully vaccinated.
March 24: Plan for COVID-19 as Chronic, but Manageable Threat, Experts Say (Voice of America)
Vaccine hesitancy, unequal vaccine access around the world, and a lack of clarity about how long immunity lasts from vaccines or from infection mean that there will be periodic resurgences of COVID-19, and that societies need to plan for how to cope with them, according to experts. “We’re not going to see cases plummet to zero. That’s magical thinking,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
March 23: The public health breakthroughs of the American Rescue Plan (The Hill)
The recently passed $1.9 trillion economic stimulus legislation represents “the most significant investment in public health in a generation,” wrote Dean Michelle Williams in an opinion piece. She said it will greatly reduce poverty in the U.S.; will make health care more affordable and accessible; and will invest in public education, public transit, and public health infrastructure.
March 23: Seeking ‘a leadership moment’ on global vaccination (Harvard Gazette)
In this Q&A, Rebecca Weintraub, director of the Better Evidence program at Ariadne Labs, discussed America’s vaccination program in relation to that of other nations, and how global vaccination can help restore economic activity and reduce risk from variants. “Every dollar spent on global manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccines is going to have global benefit,” she said. “The sooner we vaccinate and protect the population, the less transmission, the fewer variants, the less need for a booster.”
March 22: There have been many failures over Covid. We cannot afford to forget them (The Guardian)
In this opinion piece, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, wrote that the U.K. government’s delay in taking action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 led to huge loss of life. “We must remember the failures, if only to learn from them,” he wrote. “This is not the last pandemic we will face.”
March 22: Schools finally have the road map they need to fully reopen (Washington Post)
In this opinion piece, co-author Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, praised updated COVID-19 guidance for schools released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 19. The guidance recommends three feet of distancing for students when all other prevention strategies are in place, including universal masking, hand-washing, and enhanced ventilation. The guidance also says that schools can stay open regardless of community spread if schools have good controls. “The road map is clear for how to get kids back in class,” the authors wrote. “There can be no more delay.”
March 21: Covid Q&A: How Common Are Vaccine Side Effects? (Bloomberg)
Side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are extremely rare, according to Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “The risk of a serious side effect is so low that we are not actually sure that the ‘side effect is actually due to the vaccine or whether it is something that would have happened anyway because people are people,” she said.
With governors and mayors easing COVID-19 restrictions in various spots across the U.S., and with highly transmissible coronavirus variants such as B.1.17 circulating, the U.S. could experience a surge in cases, according to experts. “This tension between the desire to start opening up and the risk associated with B.1.17 is placing us in a precarious position,” said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “It would be great if people could wait a little bit longer until we get higher levels of vaccine coverage.”
March 19: The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been ‘phenomenal over the last several months’: Doctor (Yahoo! Finance)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, praised the pace of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but cautioned that until many more Americans are vaccinated, it will be important to continue focusing on testing, masking, and distancing.
March 19: The U.S. Has Followed Europe in Previous Covid-19 Surges. Will It Happen Again? (Wall Street Journal)
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that there could be an uptick in COVID-19 cases in locations in the U.S. where restrictions have been lifted and where bars, restaurants, and other activities have reopened.
March 19: When it’s safe to go back to normal (VOX)
Experts say that getting back to a pre-COVID “normal” in the U.S. will happen gradually. “I reckon that point will become apparent in retrospect,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “We will suddenly realize that we are laughing, indoors, with people we don’t know and whose vaccine status is unknown, and we will think, ‘Wow, this would have been unimaginable back when …’”
March 19: Inside Gavin Newsom’s fateful decision to lock down California (Los Angeles Times)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020 to combat the coronavirus—a decision that resulted in both praise and condemnation over time. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, called Newsom’s decision “the right response at the right time. And it really started the national awareness and conversation about the public health interventions and public policy interventions that were needed at that time to flatten the curve and start our pandemic response.” But he said that, when reopening the economy, Newsom and other governors lifted restrictions too quickly, which led to more disease surges.
Relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in Massachusetts brought patrons to pubs to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he thinks that the Baker administration loosened restrictions on restaurants and bars too soon. “Gatherings are going to continue to be risky until a sufficient fraction of the population are vaccinated,” he said.
March 17: These scientists are already on the hunt for the next pandemic (WIRED)
Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Broad Institute, and Christian Happi, a visiting scientist in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan School and a professor at Nigeria’s Redeemer’s University, discussed a disease surveillance system they are working on called Sentinel, currently being piloted in Nigeria. The system involves new diagnostic tests and rapid data sharing to help pinpoint and contain outbreaks. Sabeti noted that an early-warning system for viral threats could help curb a global outbreak as well as mitigate the impact of these diseases in Africa. “African people are very familiar—sadly—with infectious disease,” she said. “But that also means they’re very well poised and positioned to do this.”
The P.1 COVID-19 variant, originally detected in Brazil, was confirmed in a patient in Massachusetts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the variant is thought to be “either more able to re-infect people, more transmissible, or some combination of those.” Given the presence of the variant in the state, he said, “We still need to be getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to prevent it getting a toehold.”
March 16: As U.S. Vaccinations Rise, Are ‘Vaccine Passports’ for Americans Coming? (HealthDay)
Pressure is mounting for the U.S. to issue “vaccine passports,” with the goal of boosting travel and tourism. But experts say the idea poses drawbacks. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said the passports could deepen inequities and create concerns over fraud and privacy violations. He added that scientists don’t know how long vaccine-derived immunity lasts, making it unclear how long such passports should be valid.
March 16: After weeks of declining cases, echoes of hot spots emerge in Upper Midwest, New York City area (Washington Post)
With new hot spots of COVID-19 infections emerging in several locations across the U.S., experts warned against a rush to reopen and urged people to continue taking precautions. “I keep trying to say, ‘Just hold off, hold off, hold off, because the vaccine’s coming,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
March 16: How ‘Vaccine Day’ Could Boost Inoculations (Bloomberg)
Members of a vaccine-focused nonprofit called 1Day Sooner have proposed a one-time federal holiday called National Vaccine Day, perhaps on the Friday before Labor Day weekend 2021. The holiday would celebrate the health workers and other essential workers who have been working through the pandemic, as well as help convince skeptics to get vaccinated in order to join the festivities. “We have to make getting vaccinated the coolest option,” said Keona Wynne, a doctoral student in population health sciences and a member of 1Day Sooner’s Vaccine Day initiative steering committee. “I think the buzz and anticipation of doing something fun will motivate many people who are vaccine-hesitant or uncertain.”
March 16: Spring surge in air travel offers a boost for beleaguered airlines — and brings fears of infection rise (Washington Post)
Health experts are concerned that a recent increase in air travel in the U.S. could lead to spikes in COVID-19 infections. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative—part of a study team that found that, overall, the risk of air travel is low—said that people still need to be cautious when flying. “If you’re going from a place where there is low incidence to a place where there’s very high incidence and irresponsible behavior, you’ve got to be extra cautious,” he said. “We’re looking at a problem that will recede as more people are vaccinated, but until then, we need to keep wearing masks and keep social distancing.”
March 16: Science ‘not the only factor’ in Covid decisions, city manager says as call for caution is defeated (Cambridge Day)
The Cambridge City Council voted March 15 against a more cautious reopening in the city in spite of the fact that its expert advisory panel on COVID-19 expressed concern about doing so. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, a resident of Cambridge and a member of the expert panel, warned that coronavirus variants in circulation—especially one first identified in Britain that is more transmissible and probably more deadly—mean that cases are likely to increase.
March 16: Kid COVID-19 vaccine trial begins for Moderna (Boston25)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, discussed the beginning of a trial to test the safety and efficacy of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in children. Kissler noted that it’s important to test the vaccine in kids because, while they generally don’t get very sick from COVID-19, they can transmit the infection. “So there’s a possibility that if kids remain unvaccinated we could still see transmission of SARS-CoV-2 amongst kids, and that might make it more difficult to control in the overall population.”
March 16: Opinion: How to make sure people still get tested, even as the risk of covid-19 falls (Washington Post)
To incentivize people to get COVID-19 tests amid the vaccine rollout, “we need to dramatically reduce the costs to testing — for example, offer free, rapid tests that are comfortable, easy to use and available at home,” wrote Jessica Cohen, Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Associate Professor of Global Health, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, in this op-ed. Small “nudges” could also help, such as bundling free, at-home rapid tests with reservations for sporting and entertainment events and distributing them to parents at all well-child visits, they wrote.
March 16: Where Health Services stands with COVID vaccine (Harvard Gazette)
In this Q&A, 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, discussed the current status of COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts and at Harvard, the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, and what community members can feel comfortable doing either at home or in public, whether they’ve already been vaccinated or not.
March 16: Why ADE Hasn’t Been a Problem With COVID Vaccines (MedPage Today)
Experts say that there has been no evidence of antibody-dependent enhancement of immunity (ADE)—a potentially deadly immune phenomenon seen with other viral infections and vaccines—associated with COVID-19 vaccines. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that COVID-19 vaccines have a better safety profile than older types of vaccines. “The chances for ADE are much slimmer than with any of the older ways for making virus vaccines,” he said.
March 16: AstraZeneca Vaccine Suspensions Weaken Europe’s Faltering Rollout (New York Times)
The use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended in several European countries amid concerns about a possible connection with side effects such as blood clots and abnormal bleeding. Health authorities suspect the clotting problems are most likely coincidental. Don Goldmann, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that “AstraZeneca is a very substantial part of the European investment. It is going to be delayed and much harder to have enough of the alternative vaccines to have a coordinated rapid response.”
March 16: As K-12 School Reopenings Continue, Educators Urge Reform to In-Person Education System (Harvard Crimson)
March 15: Lessons from Europe’s third coronavirus wave (PRI’s The World)
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that a coronavirus surge currently occurring in Europe “is not unexpected” given the spread of a more contagious variant. He also said that reports of excessive clotting thrombosis among individuals who’d received the AstraZeneca vaccine—which led Italy, France, Germany, Spain and other countries to suspend use of the vaccine—does not prove that the vaccine caused the thrombosis. He noted that the rate of thrombosis in those countries is not greater than would be expected if there were no vaccine. “And on that basis, WHO is saying there is yet no evidence that the vaccine caused the thrombosis,” he said.
To help waylay fears about COVID-19 vaccines among people of color, Harlem-based fashion designer Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day appeared in a Vogue video discussing the importance of vaccination with Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and former New York City health commissioner. They addressed how the vaccines were developed and how they work, common concerns about safety, and the reasons why COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color. Dan was also shown getting vaccinated in the video.
March 15: Stimulus could fund ventilation improvements in classrooms (Marketplace Morning Report)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
March 14: The Good News: Dr. Fauci Agrees We Can Reach Normalcy by the Fourth of July (Mother Jones)
Even though vaccine distribution has ramped up significantly in the U.S., the rollout continues to be plagued by disparities. Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, said that inequities in vaccine distribution—and in the outsized toll of the virus on people of color—are “because of the social consequences of race in our society, which has been reinforced by decades, centuries of bad practices and policies.”
Some U.S. states avoided stringent lockdowns during the pandemic and fared about as well as other states that did impose lockdowns. To explain this, Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, speculated that in states with relaxed guidelines, some people may have chosen to be more vigilant, while people in states with stronger mandates may have followed guidelines such as masking in public but let down their guard in private.
March 12: COVID a Year In: Where We Are and Where We’re Headed (Vanity Fair’s Inside the Hive podcast)
In a wide-ranging interview, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed where the nation stands one year into the pandemic and what to expect in the months to come. He talked about topics including vaccines, variants, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and how people should prepare for the next phase.
March 12: Can Antimicrobial Clothing Fight COVID? (Gear Patrol)
Ramon Sanchez, research associate in the Department of Environmental Health, said that antimicrobial clothing could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in certain high-risk circumstances—such as in hospitals, where a worker’s clothing could become coated with viral particles. But, he added, “don’t solely rely on this technology to prevent COVID-19 as infections are more likely to come from SARS-CoV-2 infected aerosols instead of contaminated surfaces.”
March 11: Fauci: We’ll see a “big difference” in the pandemic by early fall (NBC News)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that while vaccinations are the most important part of the strategy to fight COVID-19, there is other work to do, such as ensuring that vaccine distribution is equitable and continuing to mask and distance in order to protect against circulating variants.
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said that rapid COVID-19 tests could help life return to normal in the U.S. but that regulatory issues are getting in the way. He noted that most rapid tests are only available with a prescription, adding that testing roughly two or three times per week “seems to be enough to really reduce the probability of an outbreak happening in any given community.”
Evidence suggests that the coronavirus may mutate more easily in immunocompromised patients. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that he has been struck by the “remarkable convergence” in the types of mutations being seen in case studies in different parts of the world.
In response to a new study that showed that more than 20 percent of health care workers have experienced depression and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic, Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health, said that more research is needed to monitor rates of mental illness among these workers over time.
March 10: Looking back on Harvard’s COVID response one year later (Harvard Gazette)
Several faculty members from Harvard Chan School were cited for their efforts in helping Harvard University respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who offered perspective on rapid testing, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, who offered advice on ventilation and engineering controls to minimize exposure. Others cited included 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, and Katrina Armstrong, head of the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School.
March 10: Harvard researcher leads study on rapid, at-home COVID-19 testing with Citigroup Inc. workers (Boston Globe)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed a study he’s leading to assess the benefits of rapid coronavirus testing. He said he hopes the study will show which approaches work best to quell the spread of disease. “And ideally, when we start to see cases resurge again in the fall—if not before, with variants—we’ll be in a better position to curb those outbreaks, in part through the use of tests like these rapid tests,” he said.
March 10: Inside Harvard’s Cautious Reopening Approach in the Year of Covid (Harvard Crimson)
Edward Nardell, professor in the Departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases, quoted
March 10: The role of vaccines in this pandemic (CBC’s The Current)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that variants and anti-vaccination movements could delay the end of the pandemic, and Wayne Koff, CEO of the Human Immunomics Initiative and adjunct professor of epidemiology, discussed work to create a universal coronavirus vaccine. (Beginning at 29:00)
Although the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is highly protective, especially against severe illness and death, some Americans think it’s inferior to vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, noted that sending the J&J vaccine to poorer zip codes could risk allegations of discrimination. “If you start distributing this vaccine to certain groups and certain neighborhoods, without explaining why it is being done that way, then there is likely to be a perception that ‘my group, my neighborhood, my town is getting this low efficacy vaccine compared to that group, that neighborhood or that town,’” he said.
March 9: Health expert reflects on COVID response and projects hope (CBS Evening News)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, reflected on predictions he made a year ago about the pandemic—he predicted that roughly 80 million U.S. adults would become infected with COVID-19, and his predictions were correct—and said that he’s more hopeful for the months ahead. COVID-19 “won’t be gone, but I think we’ll be in a much more normal place in the fall,” he said.
Although Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram, say they have taken steps to battle vaccine misinformation, clever influencers and posters have been able to work around Facebook’s rules, and the tech giant’s algorithm for identifying misinformation isn’t robust enough, according to experts. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that anti-vaccine groups “are very shrewd and sly” and “are a couple of steps ahead of the platforms and the platforms have to keep catching up with them.”
March 9: Pandemic Presidencies: How Donald Trump and Joe Biden Navigated a Year of COVID-19 (Spectrum News)
This article compared the differences between how President Trump dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and how President Biden is dealing with it now. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, who also served as assistant secretary of health under President Obama, noted that Biden has been more honest and transparent about the pandemic than Trump. Koh added that the “one bright light” during the Trump administration was the timely development of vaccines. Koh also discussed differences in vaccine rollout and coordination between the federal government and states.
Soon the U.S. will have plenty of vaccines, and may face the problem of having to reach some people who may be hesitant, some who don’t feel rushed to get a vaccine, or others who lack access. Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, said so-called “last mile” delivery channels should be planned now to reach vulnerable communities. “We’re going to see vaccination availability, for example, at food banks,” she said.
K. Srinath Reddy, adjunct professor of epidemiology, quoted
Experts, including Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that getting a coronavirus vaccine will not cause a person to test positive on a viral test, such as a PCR or rapid test, but it could cause someone to test positive on an antibody test.
March 8: COVID-19 mental health crisis is hitting young adults (HealthDay)
Laura Kubzansky, co-director of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, spoke about how the pandemic is impacting young people’s mental health. “We already knew [young people] have been struggling more than previous generations,” she said. “But now in the pandemic, younger people also seem to be having a harder time with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and so forth, especially those who live alone or are living in more transient circumstances due to schooling or other factors.” Ashima Dogra, recent medical school graduate and a summer 2020 intern with the Lee Kum Sheung Center, was also quoted.
March 8: Don’t let covid-19 keep kids from playing sports (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, recommends that kids be allowed to return to sports, even if COVID-19 is spreading in a community. He said the risks are low if precautions are taken, such as playing outdoors whenever possible, wearing a mask for close contact sports, de-densifying gyms for indoor sports, and limiting time in locker rooms.
March 8: Nation takes baby steps to normality after year in lockdown (The Hill)
As COVID-19 vaccinations increase, experts say that precautions can be slowly loosened, although the virus won’t disappear completely. “The virus isn’t going to go away,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “But it will begin to do less and less damage, because people are going to be immune, so even if they get sick they’re not going to die, for example. Even if they get infected, they won’t end up in the hospital.”
March 7: ‘An essential service’: Inside Biden’s struggle to meet his school reopening promises (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
March 6: Year of coronavirus pandemic grieving creating ‘perfect storm’ for mental health conditions (Boston Herald)
March 6: Dallas County could reach herd immunity by summer — but that doesn’t mean things will be back to normal (Dallas Morning News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that herd immunity to COVID-19 is “a fluid state. It comes and then it can go.” He noted that, among those who were infected early in the pandemic or were vaccinated early in 2021, immunity could wane by fall and more cases could emerge.
March 5: Coronavirus transmission: SARS-CoV-2 in the air (Knowable Magazine)
In a video interview, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, said it’s clear that the coronavirus spreads mostly via respiratory droplets and aerosols and that too much effort and money are being spent on cleaning instead of on better ventilation and filtration systems. He discussed how to make buildings healthier to fight the pandemic.
March 5: What Does a Pandemic Ending Look Like? (On the Media)
In this podcast, Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, said that “it’s hard to imagine a unified end” to the pandemic. Some experts say that when there’s an average of 100 deaths a day—similar to the number of deaths attributed to the flu per day—“that will be a ‘reasonably acceptable threshold’ by which we could say the COVID pandemic is over and this is the new norm for society.” But she added, “I don’t think there will be a clear moment when we can say we never have to think about COVID again.”
March 5: The Future of Health Policy in a Partisan United States (JAMA)
Democrats and Republicans are profoundly divided on key issues of health care policy, according to this Perspective article by Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus; John Benson, senior research scientist, and Eric Schneider, adjunct professor of health policy and management. The authors outlined differences on four issues, noting that partisan differences are the least pronounced regarding COVID-19.
The coronavirus could throw further twists our way in the coming months, according to experts speaking at a recent panel that included Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. The panelists predicted some sort of fall resurgence. Said Mina, “The one very clear thing is this isn’t done.”
March 5: The Virus Spread Where Restaurants Reopened or Mask Mandates Were Absent (New York Times)
New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that mask-wearing mandates were linked to fewer coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., and that restaurant dining was linked with a rise in infections and deaths. “The study is not surprising,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science. “What’s surprising is that we see some states ignoring all of the evidence and opening up quickly, and removing mask mandates and opening full dining.”
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
March 5: COVID Vaccines May Prevent Spread but Inoculated People Should Still Be Careful (Newsweek)
Early evidence suggests that COVID-19 vaccines likely prevent transmission of the virus, say experts. “I think it is reasonable to be slightly less cautious if vaccinated, but would strongly recommend continuing to mask and reduce contacts until the data are clearer,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
March 4: Still Not Protected: Chelsea COVID study shows second wave hit workers hardest (Chelsea Record)
Cristina Alonso, DrPH ’21, discussed her analysis of COVID-19 cases in Chelsea for the second half of 2020, which found that essential workers were being hit disproportionately hard. “The big finding is number one that despite being almost a year into this pandemic we’re still not taking care of workers on the job,” she said. “They are still getting sick at work and bringing it home and giving it to their families.”
March 4: Popular Drug Does Not Alleviate Mild Covid-19 Symptoms, Study Finds (New York Times)
A new study suggests that ivermectin, which has been prescribed widely during the coronavirus pandemic to treat mild symptoms of the disease, does not speed recovery. Regina Rabinovich, ExxonMobil Malaria Scholar in Residence in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said the new trial adds much-needed data about the drug’s usefulness in treating COVID-19. She added, though, that the study didn’t answer the important question of whether ivermectin can prevent severe disease or death.
March 4: COVID Testing’s Dropped 60% in Massachusetts, and It’s Troubling Experts (NBC Boston)
COVID-19 testing in Massachusetts hit a peak of 25,000 people on January 8, but by February 28 it was down to 9,600—a 60% drop. Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, expressed concern about the drop. “The vaccine will protect us better if we, at the same time, mitigate transmissions and use the playbook that we have: masking, testing and practicing physical distancing,” she said.
March 4: COVID Deaths Soar in Brazil as Bolsonaro Blasts Lockdowns (Truthout)
In this Q&A, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, discussed COVID-19 in Brazil, where the death toll has topped nearly 260,000, hospitals are overwhelmed with new cases, a dangerous variant called P.1 is spreading, and less than 4% of the population has been vaccinated. Castro said the crisis in Brazil is due to a “combination of inaction and also wrongdoing” by President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she said.
With COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up, some experts hope the U.S. could have a “normal” summer. But if restrictions are lifted too soon there could be further disease spikes, they say. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said the current situation is like the seventh-inning stretch of a baseball game. “Progress has been made; it’s OK to take stock of that,” he said. “How we play the next two innings determines if this is a single game or turns into a doubleheader.”
March 4: Covid tongue? Why new Covid-19 symptoms keep popping up. (Vox)
Scientists keep discovering new COVID-19 symptoms, such as mouth ulcers and something called “Covid tongue,” a fuzzy yellow-white coating on the tongue. That symptom and others have been reported through the COVID Symptom Study app. Noted Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, who co-leads the study, “I think the lesson is unusual symptoms can come out of the blue with no clear explanation. It has to be on every health care provider’s mind.”
Obesity greatly increases the risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Experts say the connection highlights the need for governments to do more to promote healthy eating and more active lifestyles; to take action against poverty and inequity, which has magnified the effects of COVID-19; and taming the power of the food and beverage industry, which often promotes unhealthy products. Noted Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology, “You can spend a few dollars and eat a few hundred calories in a few minutes. And food marketing encourages us to eat every moment of the day.”
Experts discussed possibilities for how the coronavirus pandemic will play out over time. Some think the summer will be better, followed by a spike in the fall. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said he worries that a fall uptick in cases could take a public health toll as well as psychological and societal tolls. “Fall comes along and people have gotten excited about being back in school and doing this and that without what happened last year,” he said. “And then we start to see spread again. And I just think it’s going to be demoralizing.”
March 3: Pregnancy and Covid-19 vaccination (BBC’s Health Check)
Julia Wu, principal investigator of the Human Immunomics Initiative and research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology, discussed her new global survey of attitudes of pregnant women about being vaccinated against COVID-19. (Wu featured at 3:05)
In this Perspective piece, three experts from the Department of Health Policy and Management—Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist; Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus; and Hanna Caporello, program manager—suggested ways to motivate the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19, based on public opinion data from 39 nationally representative polls conducted between August 2020 and February 2021.
March 3: Vaccine research must include pregnant women during COVID and beyond (The Hill)
In this op-ed, Dean Michelle Williams, Steven Phillips of the COVID Collaborative, and Julia Wu, principal investigator of the Human Immunomics Initiative and research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology, highlighted the problem of vaccine hesitancy among pregnant women and called for their inclusion in vaccine studies. They also offered recommendations for serving pregnant women better for the duration of the pandemic.
March 3: Catholics urged by U.S. church leadership to avoid Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (Washington Times)
Some Catholic leaders are urging Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because it is produced using cell lines derived from decades-old abortions. But Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted, “There is no remnant of the original abortion in the cell line.” The vaccines don’t contain fetal tissue and they are manufactured using lab-grown cells.
Public health experts have widely condemned moves by Texas, Mississippi, and some other states to lift coronavirus restrictions. Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said that while he understood states’ difficulties in deciding whether to reopen their economies, partial reopenings in various parts of the country over the past several months have been “counterproductive” to quelling the virus. As for lifting mask mandates, he said, “The part that doesn’t make any sense at all is the masking part. There’s no economic reason to not wear masks ever.”
March 3: Brazil’s Covid Crisis Is a Warning to the Whole World, Scientists Say (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
March 2: The Case for Covid Optimism (New York Times)
March 2: When even grief is taken away (Harvard Gazette)
The U.S. has seen more than 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. But amid the pandemic, people have been cut off from grieving rituals such as funerals and wakes that typically bring people together for support. At a Forum event, Christy Denckla, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology, called the loss of collective grieving combined with other pandemic-related losses a “perfect storm…for long-term, clinically impairing conditions.”
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, warned against relaxing COVID-19 restrictions. He said that cases of the virus are likely to resurge in Massachusetts as a result of the Baker administration’s decision to ease capacity limits at businesses. “Once we start giving the virus more opportunities to transmit, it’s going to take them,” he said.
March 2: This map shows what’s slowing down the vaccine rollout where you live (Fast Company)
Sema Sgaier, adjunct assistant professor of global health and co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Surgo Ventures, discussed a tool developed by her organization that maps out factors that could make the COVID-19 vaccine rollout slower in some parts of the U.S. than others. Officials can use the tool to better understand where more resources are needed.
March 2: State officials, community leaders try to dissuade residents from vaccine ‘shopping’ (Boston Globe)
Officials and experts in Massachusetts are urging people to take whatever COVID-19 vaccine is offered to them, even though some may be worried that one brand is better than another. “There is confusion, and that is because the [efficacy] numbers are not identical,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “But if I was offered any one of the three, I would not hesitate to take it. The point of the vaccine is to prevent people from dying, and all three of the vaccines show they can do that.”
March 2: It’s a Myth That Asian-Americans Are Doing Well in the Pandemic (Scientific American)
Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, quoted
States across the U.S. are easing COVID-19 restrictions. But Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair, said that the rollbacks are happening too soon. “We are currently at levels of cases that are still above the highest level of our last surge, so we haven’t even come down below the surge last summer,” said Gawande. “We continue to have 2,000 deaths a day, so this is not the level that we’re in a good shape to just plateau at, we’ve got to push further downward.”
March 1: Virus Variant in Brazil Infected Many Who Had Already Recovered From Covid-19 (New York Times)
New research suggests that a COVID-19 variant called P.1 circulating in Brazil may be able to infect people who previously had a different strain of the disease, and may weaken the protective effect of a Chinese vaccine in use in Brazil. “It’s right to be worried about P.1, and this data gives us the reason why,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
March 1: Amid a chaotic COVID-19 vaccine rollout, states find ways to connect shots with arms (USA Today)
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been bumpy, with some states doing much better than others. “This is really a function of the total chaos of 50 state health systems in an uncoordinated, unresponsive, underreported system to the federal government,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “Crazy as that may be, that’s the American way.”
March 1: J&J’s single-dose COVID vaccine raises hopes for faster rollout (Nature)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a member of a panel advising the Food and Drug Administration on the health and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, said that a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson—the third to be authored by the FDA—“clearly gets way over the bar. And it’s nice to have a single-dose vaccine.”
March 1: J&J’s Covid Vaccine Could Protect Millions — If People Take It (Bloomberg)
Amid concern that people will be reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson because its overall efficacy appears lower than other currently available vaccines, Harvard Chan Dean Michelle Williams said that the vaccine can prevent people from getting seriously ill, becoming hospitalized, and overwhelming the health care system. “This is not the time to be quibbling over decimal places or the levels of efficacy we’re seeing,” she said.