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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 May 2021 in which they offer comments and context:
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, explained the difference between absolute and relative risk. The latter metric is typically used to describe the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
May 30: The U.S. May Never Hit the Herd Immunity Threshold. That’s OK. (New York Times)
In an op-ed, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and co-authors argued that it may not be necessary to reach herd immunity—the point at which enough people in a population are immune to a pathogen to limit its spread—in order to escape the COVID-19 pandemic. They said that high vaccination rates in the U.S. are likely to enable the country to largely keep COVID-19 at bay. “Every person vaccinated is one who is very unlikely to get infected and spread the virus to friends and family,” they wrote.
May 29: June is seen as last, best chance to boost COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts (Boston Globe)
State officials in Massachusetts say they expect to hit the state’s target of fully vaccinating 4.1 million residents against the coronavirus by mid-June. While reaching that milestone will permit most people to return to normal life, it still won’t be enough to prevent future spikes of the virus among vulnerable populations, according to experts. “This virus has humbled us so many times over the last 16 months,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “Very few scientists are ready to say we’re going to vanquish this and put it behind us.”
May 27: Island Spirit Helped Avoid Covid Catastrophe (Vineyard Gazette)
In a commentary, Michael Stoto, adjunct professor of biostatistics, wrote about the experience of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. during the pandemic. Noting that the Vineyard fared better than many other places, Stoto wrote, “We must build on the Island spirit that got us through the last 15 months.”
Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental, reproductive and women’s health, emphasized the need for more research to understand how COVID-19 could impact menstruation. “We need to understand whether the COVID-19 infection specifically alters the process of menstruation, bleeding lengths or heaviness, or development of the endometrial lining,” she said.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that the Indian diaspora community is being heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis back home. “There are more people that are a part of Indian diaspora than any other time in history,” he noted. “Second, we are spread all over the world Third, it’s a media age: We can see the tragedy happening in South Asia. Social media is interconnecting us, and WhatsApp, and we are hearing from family and friends, and that gets amplified. Everyone is touched b this.”
May 27: Scientists Don’t Want to Ignore the ‘Lab Leak’ Theory, Despite No New Evidence (New York Times)
Although most experts lean toward the theory that the coronavirus emerged from animal-to-human transmission, there remains the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab, according to experts including Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
May 27: Harvard Researchers and Clinicians Battle ‘Silent Pandemic’ of Mental Health Issues (Harvard Crimson)
Several experts from Harvard Chan School discussed the significant toll the pandemic has taken on mental health, the persistent inequities in access to mental health resources and care, and the importance of caring for people’s mental health as part of their overall health. Experts quoted included Jordan Smoller, professor in the Department of Epidemiology; Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population; S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Bizu Gelaye, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology; and Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology.
May 27: Covid-19 Is Killing Hundreds of Pregnant Women and Babies in Brazil (Wall Street Journal)
In Brazil, more than 100 pregnant women are dying from COVID-19 every month, and at least 579 babies under the age have 1 have died from the disease, according to government figures. Experts say the highly contagious and possibly more deadly P.1 variant of the coronavirus, which has spread through Brazil, may be making COVID-19 particularly risky for pregnant women. “What’s happening in Brazil is so concerning,” said Neel Shah, an obstetrician, research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, and director of the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs. “I can only imagine the degree of fear when the government comes out and says there is a new strain and it seems to be impacting pregnant people differently.”
May 27: Bacow’s First Three Years ‘Colored by the Pandemic’ (Harvard Crimson)
Dyann Wirth, Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases, said she thinks that “Harvard has done a reasonable job of balancing risk and the need to continue activities” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
May 26: The Search For Vaccination Proof That Works Better Than Paper Cards (NPR’s All Things Considered)
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, would-be travelers may need to show proof that they’re vaccinated—but paper vaccination cards can be easily forged, damaged, or lost, and there’s no universal digital passport yet. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, said, ‘There should be either government systems or private sector systems that are reliable that I can use to show to an airline that I’ve been vaccinated.”
May 26: Local experts support Biden’s call for intelligence community probe into origins of COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics—who was one of 18 scientists calling for further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in a recent letter published in the journal Science—was quoted.
May 26: So You’re Vaccinated! How Can You Let People Know? (Wired)
Wearing stickers, buttons, T-shirts, and bracelets to signal that you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 can help create a positive environment, according to experts including Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication.
May 25: Let’s finally get COVID-19 testing right (The Hill)
The U.S. needs a testing policy for COVID-19 that should prioritize “protecting the vulnerable, managing hotbeds of spread and scanning for future outbreaks,” wrote Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, in this opinion piece. “Vaccination will help us to manage the worst effects of COVID-19 … but vaccination alone will not be enough.”
In spite of the availability of effective vaccines for COVID-19, testing is still needed to catch any new outbreaks that occur, according to Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “Testing is our eye on the virus,” he wrote in an Ideas piece. “Without testing, we can’t see where it is or where it is going.” He said that it’s “essential that we leverage accurate and highly accessible rapid testing to keep schools, workplaces and travel open in the safest way possible.”
May 25: Inequities in care, misinformation fuel COVID deaths among poor, indigenous Brazilians (PBS Newshour)
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, said that an equitable response by the Brazilian health service to the COVID-19 pandemic would have led to fewer deaths—but that didn’t happen.
May 25: How to fly safely this summer (San Jose Mercury News)
May 25: Will we need COVID-19 booster shots? Increasingly, the expectation is yes (MarketWatch)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and other experts commented on the likelihood that vaccinated people’s immunity to COVID-19 will wane over time and that they may need booster shots.
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases and a member of the FDA advisory committee that recommended authorizing the use of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for use in the U.S., called Moderna’s announcement that their vaccine is highly effective in 12- to 15-year-olds “another piece of good news.” But he said he would like to see further data from the company.
May 25: The Beginning of the End of the American Pandemic (The New Yorker)
This article described the various factors at play as the pandemic wanes in the U.S., including increasing vaccination, immunity from natural infection, and the ability of vaccines to work against major coronavirus variants. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that some parts of the country with high immunization rates will reach something close to herd immunity before others. “There won’t be one national end [to the pandemic],” he said. “We’re going to see a fundamental change in terms of what it means to live in this country, but there’s also going to be a lot of local variation.”
May 24: Survey finds 4 main types of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy (CBS News)
Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health, discussed her recent survey that asked people why they aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine and that found some broad reasons why people are skeptical.
May 24: Coming to Terms With Weight Issues (New York Times)
In a letter to the New York Times, S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, noted that there’s been a steep rise in eating disorders during the pandemic, and said she’s particularly concerned about teens being targeted to “fix” their pandemic-remodeled bodies.
With vaccination slowing the spread of the coronavirus, some schools are reopening without widespread COVID-19 screening in place, although some experts argue that testing will still be important for stemming outbreaks among unvaccinated kids. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that school screening programs could help the community at large by serving as an early-warning system for any virus variants that could post a threat to the elderly. He noted that many elderly, even if vaccinated, may become susceptible again because of waning immunity.
Although most fully vaccinated people can skip COVID-19 tests, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that, with more than 60% of Americans not fully vaccinated, screening of those without symptoms still has a role.
Public health experts say that, in spite of increasing vaccination uptake, the coronavirus will continue to be a threat to elderly seniors. “Elderly people, the very people we have gone through economic shutdowns to protect, generally don’t hold on to their immunological protection as well as younger individuals,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “I would be very surprised if we don’t see a resurgence of cases, in a much smaller degree, this fall and winter. Those will end up getting into some of the senior living centers and nursing homes and we will see additional cases that are very worrying.”
An app co-created by a Florida educator in Broad Institute infectious disease researchers—including Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School—simulates what would happen during a pandemic, and helps students learn about its dangers and how to mitigate them.
May 22: Having taken criticism for being overcautious, the CDC tries the opposite (The Economist)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
May 21: Family Caregivers Feel the Pandemic’s Weight (New York Times)
Early research is showing that family caregivers have struggled through the pandemic with issues such as anxiety and depression. A study by postdoctoral fellow Sung Park, a sociologist and demographer at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, also found that long-term caregivers had much higher rates of physical symptoms like headaches, body aches, and abdominal discomfort than caregivers who provided assistance for a year or less.
May 21: Tens of thousands of Mass. 12- to 15-year-olds got COVID shots in the first week of eligibility (Boston Globe )
Sixteen percent of 12- to 15-year-olds in Massachusetts received at least one COVID-19 vaccine in the first week that it was approved for use in their age group. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, called the progress “an excellent start.” He said he expect numbers to rise soon.
May 21: Some remain at risk for serious COVID-19 complications — even after vaccinations (Boston Globe)
People with weakened immune systems, who tend to produce fewer antibodies in response to vaccines, may still be at risk for serious complications from COVID-19 even after being vaccinated, say experts. The severity of COVID-19 cases among people with compromised immune systems could vary greatly from patient to patient, said Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “It’s very specific for what their [underlying] disease is, and what their treatments are,” he said.
May 20: ‘Use it or lose it’ policy for COVID vaccines needs an equity focus (The Hill)
In an opinion piece, Dean Michelle Williams and her co-authors argued that the allocation of vaccines in the U.S. should factor in which populations are most at risk of contracting COVID-19.
May 20: How Long Do Vaccine Protections Last? Science Can’t Say for Sure (Bloomberg)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that it could be months before researchers understand how long vaccines can protect against the coronavirus. He said that measuring people’s antibody levels doesn’t help right now because it’s not yet known what level of antibodies will provide robust protection, and that it will require testing many people over time to learn more.
May 19: What Really Happened With that Weird Yankees COVID Outbreak (New York Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained why eight members of the Yankees recently tested positive for COVID-19 even though they’d been vaccinated. He said the vaccines are very good at protecting people from illness but may still allow the coronavirus to grow—and that the highly sensitive PCR tests given to the Yankees can detect even very small amounts of virus.
May 19: Children face added mental health struggles during pandemic (Roll Call)
Children’s mental health has been harshly affected by COVID-19–related social restrictions, school closures, parental health and family financial stressors, according to experts. “Children are uniquely suffering in ways we have barely begun to grasp,” said Dean Michelle Williams. “This is nothing less than a crisis.”
Pandemics always end, one way or another, say experts. In the past, viruses that caused pandemics have become endemic—meaning that they continue to circulate but, as people’s immune systems learn how to fend off the deadliest infections, they cause mostly milder illness. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said he thinks that the most likely scenario with the coronavirus is that “almost everybody has some form of immunity from natural infection and/or vaccination and/or one followed by the other, and that that will persist long enough so that they don’t get really sick when they get it again. And then we transition to endemicity.”
May 18: All states should harness nurses’ full potential (STAT)
An opinion piece co-authored by David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, argued for giving more nurses “full practice authority,” which allows advanced practice registered nurses to prescribe medications, make diagnoses, and provide treatment independent of a physician. “When nurses are free to fully deploy their expertise and training, they not only improve health care quality and access but can also help dismantle systemic inequities tied to geography, racism and poverty that affect people’s health,” the authors wrote.
May 18: Meet the Four Kinds of People Holding Us Back From Full Vaccination (New York Times)
In an opinion piece, Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health, describes four categories of people in the U.S. who have yet to be vaccinated: the watchful (8%), the cost-anxious (9%), the system distrusters (4%), and the COVID skeptics (14%). Sgaier’s estimates were based on a national survey of U.S. adults.
May 18: Opinion: The CDC’s critics are wrong. The agency was right to relax indoor masking. (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, argued that it makes sense to relax indoor masking because a combination of highly effective vaccines, natural immunity, and low reinfection rates are combining to dramatically reduce the threat of the coronavirus. “The signs are indisputable; the vaccines are having an extraordinary effect,” Allen wrote.
May 18: New OSHA Standards Coming for COVID Workplace Safety (WebMD)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon set new standards aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19 in the workplace. Although it’s not yet known what the standards will be, Gregory Wagner, adjunct professor of environmental health, at Harvard Chan School and a former adviser at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), noted that, typically, “OSHA takes the scientific recommendations of NIOSH and often incorporates them into the standard setting process.”
May 18: How Ashish Jha became network TV’s everyman expert on Covid (STAT)
Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health and adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, said he has done TV interviews throughout the pandemic in order to help translate complex science. “As a public health person, this is my obligation,” he said.
People sometimes talk about herd immunity for COVID-19—the tipping point when enough people are either infected or vaccinated so that the virus has nowhere left to spread—as some sort of finish line for the pandemic. But Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, says that’s an illusion. “Based on the best calculations I know how to do, it will be impossible or very difficult to reach [herd immunity] in many parts of the United States,” he said.
May 17: Mass. Governor Lifting All COVID-19 Restrictions On May 29 (WBUR)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, discussed the public health perspective regarding Massachusetts’ plan to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions by May 29.
May 17: How a Colorado Campus Became a Pandemic Laboratory (New York Times)
Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Broad Institute, discussed the collaboration over the past year between Colorado Mesa University and the Broad exploring new approaches to managing viral outbreaks. The effort involves a sophisticated system for tracking COVID-19 symptoms and cases across campus, recording students’ contacts, mapping case clusters, finding chains of viral transmission, and monitoring the spread of variants.
May 16: Why A Group Of Scientists Are Calling For An Investigation Into Origin Of Pandemic (WBUR’s Morning Edition)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, explained why he signed a letter published in the journal Science that called for a thorough investigation to determine the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. “There just aren’t any answers yet, one way or another, about how the coronavirus that’s now ravaging the world began,” he said.
Some scientists said that although new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says that vaccinated adults don’t need to wear masks for the most part, it’s possible that masking will be still be needed in the future if there’s another surge of COVID-19. “It’s important to not see this change as a signal that this means that the pandemic is over or that there is no capacity for policy reversals in the future,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
May 15: Nearly half of Americans don’t trust CDC and FDA — that’s a problem (The Hill)
In an op-ed, Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, and Mary Findling, research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed their recent survey that found that while most Americans greatly appreciate the field of public health and want to spend more money on it at the federal level, they also have low levels of trust in the institutions that lead the field—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration—and in the public health system’s current performance.
May 14: ‘In India, anything and everything is a super-spreader event’ (Harvard Gazette)
In a Q&A, S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography, discussed how super-spreader events and challenges with vaccines, hospital capacity, and overcrowding have contributed to India’s COVID-19 crisis.
Both Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, and Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that Massachusetts should adopt new COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that fully vaccinated Americans may forego masks in most settings. They said it’s best when there’s uniform public health guidance.
Marcia Testa, senior lecturer on biostatistics and president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, noted that even if Massachusetts changes its rules about masking, local boards of health may still require masks in certain circumstances, such as if a community has high rates of coronavirus.
May 14: Philip Nolan says criticism of ‘snake oil’ antigen tweet is ‘fair enough’ (Irish Times)
Twitter comments by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
May 14: Scientists call for ‘proper investigation’ into virus origins (Washington Post)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was one of 18 scientists who called for a “proper investigation” into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and the possibility that it was triggered by a laboratory incident, in a recent letter in the journal Science. A joint investigation into the virus’ origins by the World Health Organization and China, released in March, found that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab. But the 18 scientists wrote that the possibility remains viable.
May 13: Poll Finds Public Health Has A Trust Problem (NPR’s Morning Edition)
Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, discussed a recent survey he oversaw that found a high level of mistrust of public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced new guidelines saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors to protect against COVID-19. But because it’s difficult to know for sure is someone is vaccinated or not, enforcing the guidelines could be tricky, said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow. “We’re creating a situation where private companies or individuals are responsible for their business and find(ing) out if people are vaccinated—if they’re even going to be enforcing that,” she said. She added, “We don’t know what vaccine effectiveness will look like if we drop recommendations of mask wearing and social distancing… To ignore a sense of caution indoors is too big of a jump at this point in time.”
May 13: Vaccinated Americans May Go Without Masks in Most Places, Federal Officials Say (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, commented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated advice on masking—that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus don’t need to wear masks in most indoor settings. He said that the new guidelines may help restore confidence in the agency, which has been criticized in the past for being too cautious in its guidance regarding COVID-19. “Given vaccination rates in some places, there’s the possibility that things might go awry locally,” he said. But “the benefit in terms of encouraging people to get the shot among those who don’t like their masks might well outweigh it.”
May 13: So Far, Vaccines Remain Effective Against Variants (FactCheck.org)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that while the effectiveness of the available COVID-19 vaccines isn’t as strong for some variants that are currently circulating, “it doesn’t seem hugely destructive. It’s not like these variants are able to completely break through people’s immune systems.”
May 13: COVID-19 mental health traumas to linger even as pandemic eases on Cape Cod (Cape Cod Times)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that the pandemic—combined with social isolation, bereavement, and stigma—“has created a perfect storm of conditions for short-term and long-term mental health problems.” The ebbing of the pandemic and the lifting of restrictions won’t necessarily heal people’s psychological distress, she noted.
May 13: More Than 2,600 Travelers Banned for Not Complying With Mask Mandate (NBC Bay Area)
Major commercial airlines in the U.S. have banned more than 2,600 passengers for refusing to wear a mask or follow COVID-19 protocols while flying. “The mask really does make a difference,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. “The better the compliance with the face mask, the more people who get vaccinated, the quicker we’re going to get to the other side of this crisis. That’s simply the way it works.”
Albert Hofman, Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Public Health and Clinical Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Epidemiology, said that a paper claiming that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine causes Alzheimer’s disease provides no evidence for that finding, which he described as “untenable.”
May 12: They Haven’t Gotten a Covid Vaccine Yet. But They Aren’t ‘Hesitant’ Either. (New York Times)
According to a new U.S. census estimate, a sizeable proportion of the U.S. population—roughly 30 million adults—are open to getting a COVID-19 vaccine but have not done so yet, for a variety of reasons, such as having jobs or family obligations that give them only limited discretionary time. Many are low-income or don’t have a college degree; some have health issues, disabilities, or face language barriers; and others don’t have a regular doctor or are socially isolated, according to an analysis of the census data by Justin Feldman, research associate at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights. “It helps break this question down of attitude versus access,” said Feldman. “With people who have not been vaccinated, some are disinclined, but others are facing structural barriers.”
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, discussed measures in place in airplanes and at airports to protect passengers from COVID-19, such as required masking, deep cleaning, and increased use of air filtration systems. “People can fly with a high degree of confidence, knowing that there are multiple layers in place to provide that protection from COVID-19 when they’re flying,” he said.
National Institutes of Health immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped lead the NIH’s development of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna, discussed her upcoming role at Harvard Chan School, where she will head a lab focused on next-generation vaccines for coronaviruses.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate who spent a year helping out in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic and taking courses at Harvard Chan School, said he is returning to his previous role—as a football player for the Kansas City Chiefs.
May 10: Debate over school mask mandates intensifies across the country (FOX News)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said he thinks that people should continue wearing masks indoors for a bit longer—until more U.S. adults get vaccinated for COVID-19—but that indoor masking mandates should end by early July.
Even with more people receiving COVID-19 vaccines every day and case numbers falling, some fully vaccinated Americans are hesitant to let their guard down, say experts. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, noted that humans are hardwired to avoid things that threaten them. “The challenge is because it’s so easy to learn, it’s hard to unlearn,” she said. “Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.” She recommended that people try situations that make them anxious in small and gradual steps. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was also quoted.
May 7: At This Hour With Kate Bolduan – Joseph Allen Clip (CNN)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, offered advice on when and where to continue wear masks to protect against COVID-19—and noted that the risk continues to decline.
Evan Benjamin, chief medical officer at Ariadne Labs and an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed a toolkit his team created to help increase public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. The toolkit includes best practices for medical providers looking to start conversations about the vaccines with hesitant patients.
COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for kids over age 16, and may soon be approved for kids as young as age 12. Allan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, noted that rates of pediatric vaccinations in Massachusetts are already beginning to show some of the same demographic disparities seen in adult vaccination. Lower-income communities such as Brockton, Chelsea, Lynn, and Revere—which have had some of the highest infection rates in the state—have been among the slowest in getting teens vaccinated, he said.
May 7: ‘Crying Out for Help’: Harvard Affiliates on Pandemic Front Line Describe Mental Health Toll (Harvard Crimson)
Medical professionals at Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals said they have faced increased stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and burnout during the pandemic. 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, said, “The psychological wounds of the pandemic will likely linger for a while. I think the people should be aware of what the wounds and needs are of medical providers going forward, as they will need time to process and heal themselves.”
A study that measured excess mortality estimated that the number of people who died from COVID-19 is far higher than official estimates, both in the U.S. and worldwide, although some experts expressed skepticism about the findings. “I think that the overall message of this (that deaths have been substantially undercounted and in some places more than others) is likely sound, but the absolute numbers are less so for a lot of reasons,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
May 6: We need to insure equitable vaccine access: Dr. Tom Tsai (Yahoo! Finance)
May 6: Can Incentives Sway the Vaccine-Hesitant? (Bloomberg)
Ankur Pandya, associate professor of health decision science, discussed the possibility that incentives, such as free beer or cash, could nudge people who are vaccine-hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He noted that more rigorous testing is needed to see what incentive campaigns might work.
May 6: To Mask Or Not To Mask? (WBUR’s “Radio Boston”)
May 6: What If The US Doesn’t Reach Herd Immunity?(WGBH)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that herd immunity works on a continuum. He said that even if full herd immunity isn’t reached, the U.S. will hopefully be able to protect the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and be able to handle any additional cases that might occur. He also called for incentivizing and educating people as much as possible to convince them to get vaccinated.
May 6: How Indian doctors abroad are helping their country fight Covid (Quartz)
Ramya Pinnamaneni, research fellow, quoted
May 6: India’s COVID-19 emergency a global reminder as cases decline in US (ABC News “The Breakdown”)
Dean Michelle Williams discussed the importance of getting more people vaccinated for COVID-19 in India, in the U.S., and around the world. She stressed the need “to collectively work together to break the spread of this pandemic,” noting that “the threat anywhere in the globe is a threat to all of us.”
May 6: Covid-19 vaccine may have significantly cut deaths among elderly despite spread of new strain, Brazil research shows (South China Morning Post)
A rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations among elderly Brazilians may have significantly reduced deaths even though a new contagious and deadly variant of the virus was spreading, according to a preprint study co-authored by Cesar Victora, visiting scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, and research assistant Susie Gurzenda.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, was among experts commenting on what kinds of things are OK to ask people about regarding COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, he said it’s OK to ask if people are vaccinated before a gathering, because it contributes to the greater good and health of all. “I would opt for honesty and openness, politely, rather than worry about [offending people] and unwittingly be part of this transmission,” he said.
If there’s enough vaccine uptake and people continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and distancing, it’s possible that levels of coronavirus infections could drop to low levels by July, according to a new paper from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said the report confirms what was already known—“more vaccines good, less vaccines bad”—and that other public health measures remain crucial to minimizing viral spread.
May 5: Can I Take Painkillers Before or After a COVID Vaccine? (The Independent)
Experts recommend avoiding taking pain relief medication before or after getting a COVID-19 vaccine in order to give your immune system the best change of learning how to fight the coronavirus. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that allowing your body to deal with the virus without painkillers helps it build “immunological memory.”
Experts advise against sending medical goods to India to help fight COVID-19. They instead recommend donating to established organizations in the country. Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, suggested giving to organizations that work with the millions of low-income and migrant workers in India that have lost their livelihoods in the pandemic, or to organizations that support people’s mental health.
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, discussed some of the reasons why Brazil’s death toll from COVID-19 is so high. Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro, like former U.S. President Donald Trump, denied the importance of the coronavirus and ignored science, she said. They would both hang out with people, shake hands, and not use masks, and both were against lockdowns. “It was a sequence of mistakes that accumulated and we end up with what we’re seeing now, many more deaths than we should see and hospitals … collapsed,” she said.
May 5: Americans will have increasingly have to make their own judgments about covid-19 risks (Washington Post)
Mask rules and other top-down restrictions are less necessary now that vaccines are winning the race against variants in the U.S., so people will need to increasingly assess COVID-19 risks on an individual basis, wrote Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, in this op-ed. He offered guidance on what activities are safe for those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t, and for kids.
May 5: The Dream: International Travel. The Reality: Chaos and Confusion. (New York Times)
The return of international leisure travel will be complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, say experts. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that reopening areas to vaccinated tourists is a calculated risk. “My doomsday scenario is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission,” she said.
May 4: The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing. Here’s How to Get There. (New York Times)
Experts offered tips on how to boost overall well-being in the wake of the pandemic, such as savoring and celebrating small things, doing good deeds, and looking for communities and connection. “Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” noted Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program. The article also featured a quiz developed by VanderWeele to assess a person’s overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
May 4: Do You Really Need Both Vaccine Doses? (Daily Caller)
With two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, the first shot provides baseline protection, but experts say the second shot is critical to strengthen and extend immunity. “The 2nd [dose] is the one that provides lasting protection,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “The second [shot] sets up the immune system to produce an army of trained cells ready to respond to the virus in the future.”
May 4: New home covid-19 tests give quick results could fuel frequent testing help limit virus spread (CBS This Morning)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained why rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are important during the pandemic, even among people who have already been vaccinated. “If I have been vaccinated already and I’m going to go into a nursing home or anywhere where people might still be vulnerable, it is best for me to take a test as long as it’s very accessible,” Mina said. “Testing in a pandemic is our eyes. If we don’t have testing, we don’t have eyes on the virus. We don’t know where it is.”
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that rapid at-home COVID-19 tests—finally available over the counter in the U.S.—are still too expensive at between $20 and $40, depending on the brand. “Currently, with the price tag, it is still a barrier for the poorest of Americans, or even just the non-wealthy,” said Mina. “Very few people will want to spend that kind of money on a regular basis. So it still is creating a barrier, where the wealthy and well-off are able to get tested and know if their kid is sick with COVID, and the poor are not. And that continues to be a major travesty.”
May 4: How should we try to persuade family and friends to get the coronavirus vaccine? (Cleveland.com)
Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist, said that the people who are most effective at convincing others to get vaccinated for COVID-19 have technical knowledge about vaccines—for example, doctors or other health care workers—and have a strong relationship with the person they’re trying to persuade.
May 3: Why Mental Health Matters for a Healthy Pregnancy: COVID-19 Survey (VeryWell Health)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, commented on a study she co-authored that found high levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress among pregnant and postpartum women during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know that maternal mental health, stress, and trauma affect fetal development,” said Koenen. She recommended that mental health be addressed in primary care appointments.
May 3: Kids Can’t Get The COVID-19 Vaccine Yet. How Much Of A Risk Do They Pose To The Rest Of Society? (FiveThirtyEight)
Even though experts some experts are now doubtful that the U.S. will reach full herd immunity to COVID-19, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that few infectious diseases ever become globally extinct. “We’ve only ever really eradicated smallpox and if it weren’t for a couple of further interventions beyond vaccines, even that could still be with us,” he said. “Most people who know anything about infectious disease don’t think total eradication is possible.” But the more people are vaccinated, the better the situation will be, he added. “We can likely get enough immunity in the population where the virus is not a major threat everywhere,” he said.
Experts are expressing concern that the U.S. won’t learn from the mistakes it made during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, while America is currently relying on its very effective vaccines to bring it out of the current pandemic, vaccines alone won’t be enough to fight future pandemics, they say. “We still need tests and treatments while the vaccine is being evaluated and manufactured, and in case the vaccines don’t work,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “I am not sure the U.S. has learned much at all—or what it even can learn given the federal nature of the country and the balkanized state of the health care system.”
May 3: COVID-19 a Seasonal Disease, Says Research; Infections Likely to Rise During Winters (Weather.com)
May 3: Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe (New York Times)
There is widespread consensus among experts that herd immunity to COVID-19 is not attainable in the foreseeable future, or perhaps ever. With highly contagious variants circulating, the herd immunity threshold—previously thought to be about 60% or 70% of the population—is now thought to be at least 80%, and may go even higher if other contagious variants develop or if it’s found that immunized people can still transmit the virus. “It is theoretically possible that we could get to about 90 percent vaccination coverage, but not super likely, I would say,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
May 3: As Covid-19 Testing Moves Center Stage, U.S. and U.K. Approaches Differ (Wall Street Journal)
As vaccination campaigns help tamp down COVID-19, faster and smarter testing will be needed to help keep the disease under control, say experts. Testing can help stave off new infections and help find variants, they say. “We’re entering into a new phase of this pandemic, and the role of testing and sequencing and all different modes of keeping an eye on the virus is certainly changing, in terms of what its role is in keeping the community safe and keeping a handle on this pandemic,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
May 1: Many Americans Anxious About Returning to ‘Normal’ After Pandemic (Voice of America)
Many people are looking forward to a return to normalcy as the pandemic is easing. But a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that roughly half of adults are uneasy about the transition back to in-person interactions. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that some people will “feel a loss because things are different.”
S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography, quoted