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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 in which they offer comments and context:
February 25: How India could win its COVID vaccination race (CGTN)
India may be on track to vaccinate roughly 300 million people out of its population of 1.3 billion by early August, thanks to massive manufacturing capacity, a strong public-health infrastructure with experience in vaccine delivery, an army of frontline workers, and meticulous planning, according to this opinion piece co-authored by Sema Sgaier, adjunct assistant professor of global health.
February 25: The Coronavirus Is Plotting a Comeback. Here’s Our Chance to Stop It for Good. (New York Times)
Many experts are optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is past, but they’re also worried that Americans may once again underestimate the virus. They say that if Americans lift restrictions too soon, variants could spread and lead to another spike in cases. Although infections, hospitalizations, and deaths have all fallen in recent weeks, numbers are still relatively high, about where they were in November. “Very, very high case numbers are not a good thing, even if the trend is downward,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “Taking the first hint of a downward trend as a reason to reopen is how you get to even higher numbers.”
February 25: Baker Reopening Plan Gets Mixed Reviews From Public Health Experts (WGBH)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said he thinks that Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to begin allowing partial reopenings for concert venues and sports arenas in late March is happening too soon, especially with coronavirus variants spreading in the U.S. “I think the important message for the general public is still to remain vigilant,” said Tsai, adding that schools should be top priority. “My hope would be, let’s get kids back in school first. Let’s get teachers vaccinated first. Let’s solve that really important problem and put our will towards that, and then move on to restaurants and concert halls and stadiums as a secondary priority while we focus on our schools.”
February 25: We’ll Probably Never Eliminate COVID-19 from the U.S. It’s Still Worth Trying (TIME)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, co-authored this Ideas piece about the trade-offs involved in trying to either eliminate COVID-19 or to keep it circulating only at low levels as an endemic disease. “For example, countries that are attempting elimination have returned to a near normal life but they must curtail travel … and maintain strict border measures,” the authors wrote. “On the other hand, accepting endemicity means we will have to ‘tolerate’ some level of deaths, probably with seasonal peaks.”
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, discussed how schools and other buildings can improve their ventilation and filtration to get more people back indoors safely—even with such simple fixes as an open window and a portable fan. Combining ventilation and filtration with measures such as masking, distancing, and hand-washing can keep people safe indoors, he said.
February 25: How the FDA Is Helping Expedite Vaccine Boosters For COVID-19 Variants (Verywell Health)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, acknowledged concern about the ability of coronavirus variants to elude antibodies produced by vaccines, but noted that the vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are relatively easy to update. “For now, the hope is that the current vaccines can protect against severe disease and deaths even if they can’t keep everyone from getting the virus caused by a variant,” he said.
February 25: Ad campaign launches to build public trust in COVID-19 shots (ABC News)
The Ad Council and the COVID Collaborative have unveiled a new public service ad campaign aimed at building trust among Americans who may be hesitant about getting vaccinated against COVID-19. Jay Winsten, director of the Initiative on Communication Strategies for Public Health at Harvard Chan School and a member of the COVID Collaborative’s advisory council, said he thinks that people will be open to the new messaging now that millions of Americans have been vaccinated without serious side effects.
February 24: COVID-19 Vaccines Work. Here’s the Real-World Proof. (TIME)
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is protecting people as well in actual use as it did in clinical trials, according to a new study from Israel. Co-authors of the study included Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. Lipsitch said the results are “close to the best possible news.”
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that he expects that the U.S. will meet the Biden administration’s goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans by the end of April, especially given the news that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is likely to receive emergency use authorization from the Food & Drug Administration. Tsai emphasized the importance of continuing with public health measures such as masking and distancing while the vaccine rollout continues.
February 24: New poll finds strong support for idea of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests (Boston Globe)
Eighty-six percent of Americans say they would test themselves for COVID-19 using at-home tests, according to a new poll from Harvard Chan School and the COVID Collaborative. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that, in spite of vaccinations, “the economy is going to continue being held up as a result of this pandemic” and that at-home testing would be a “way to accelerate reopening the economy.”
February 24: The Buffalo Bills’ Covid touchdown could be the key to reopening Broadway (Politico)
Experts discussed how COVID-19 testing and other precautions could help states reopen large-scale venues such as stadiums, theaters, and catering halls. Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that highly sensitive and inexpensive rapid tests, administered close to the start of events, are what’s really needed to reopen such venues. “If we had a test like that, that would be ideal,” he said. “Because then people could walk in, confident that at least for the duration of the event — like a three-hour game or a two-hour concert — it’s unlikely that someone who had been recently exposed and tests negative will develop enough virus that they will become infectious during that time period.”
February 24: India’s vaccination campaign is unlike any other (Vox)
India is undertaking what may be the world’s largest vaccination push, aiming to vaccinate about 300 million people by the summer—roughly one-fourth of its population. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, noted that the country is relying on a built-in network of hospitals and clinics as hubs to distribute vaccines. “It is not an ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach—what they’re doing is actively going to where people are,” he said.
February 23: Studies Examine Variant Surging in California, and the News Isn’t Good (New York Times)
Experts are trying to figure out the threat posed by a variant spreading in California known as B.1.427/B.1.429. Some are concerned that the variant may be better than others at evading the immune system and vaccines, but William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he thinks the new variant is unlikely to cause as much of a burden as a variant that emerged in the U.K. called B.1.1.7.
February 23: Coronavirus medical mystery: Baby with high viral load puzzles researchers (Washington Post)
Doctors in Washington, D.C. recently treated a baby with COVID-19 who had a very high viral load. The baby, since recovered, had been infected with a coronavirus variant called N679S, and researchers since found evidence of the variant elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region. But it’s unclear if it means the variant poses a big threat. Said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, “I think it is premature to draw strong conclusions.”
February 23: Yes, COVID-19 Changed Telemedicine Use — But It’s Complicated (Health Affairs)
Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management, was featured in this podcast about how telemedicine use has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and where the field may be heading.
February 23: As U.S. Surpasses A Half Million Deaths, COVID Cases Are On The Decline (WBUR)
Although COVID-19 cases are dropping across the U.S.—possibly driven by the seasonality of the coronavirus—William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said people should remain cautious, particularly because a highly transmissible variant first detected in the U.K. is now in the U.S. “It’s certainly premature to think that we are out of the woods,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods. We’re just in a somewhat less densely wooded part of the woods.”
February 22: Can covid herd immunity be reached without vaccinating kids? It’s complicated. (Washington Post)
Experts, including Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discussed the possible outcomes from both not vaccinating children for COVID-19 and vaccinating them. Even if children were vaccinated, the experts said, it still may be tough to achieve herd immunity, in part because up to 25% of adults may not be willing to take the vaccine.
February 22: Some Covid-19 Tests Can Help Flag U.K. Variant (Wall Street Journal)
Some types of COVID-19 tests are able to detect certain parts of the coronavirus’ genome, but miss another part linked to the highly infectious B.1.1.7 variant—and scientists say this missing piece could actually be flagging the presence of the variant. “It’s actually been a benefit for public health to be able to monitor,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “There was a silver lining there.”
February 21: Pandemic’s mental health burden heaviest among young adults (ABC News)
Experts say that the pandemic is taking an outsized toll on young adults. Said Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health, “The figures that we have from the U.S. suggest that almost two-thirds of the young adults have some symptoms of anxiety or depression or other psychological problems.” He said that even when the COVID-19 crisis is over, 10% of these young people could have long-lasting effects from their current mental health issues.
February 19: Atul Gawande on COVID-vaccine distribution and when normalcy might return (The New Yorker)
In this interview, Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Ariadne Labs founder and chair, and former COVID-19 adviser to the Biden-Harris transition team, discussed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, vaccine effectiveness, variants, and when it might be possible to return to “normal.” He said he thinks that, by the end of summer, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 will be greatly reduced., and that things will feel more normal by the fall. He added, “I think that the most likely thing is that COVID gets beaten down to become an endemic, chronic, flu-like illness that circulates, that we will have developed some antiviral treatments as well, [and] that many people continue to wear masks.”
February 19: We may duck a surge from variant that sent Britain reeling (Harvard Gazette)
Falling COVID-19 rates, rising vaccinations, timing, and people’s changing behaviors may hamper the spread of a highly infectious U.K. variant in the U.S., according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. The surge may not occur because the variant, known as B.1.1.7, arrived in the U.S. later than it did in other nations and because it’s spreading at a time when cases have begun declining rapidly, Hanage said.
February 19: A universal coronavirus vaccine (Science)
The world needs a universal coronavirus vaccine to prepare for future outbreaks, according to this editorial co-authored by Wayne Koff, CEO of the Human Immunomics Initiative and adjunct professor of epidemiology.
February 19: NBA Study Reveals The UK Variant May Last Longer In Human Hosts (Forbes)
New research co-authored by Stephen Kissler, research fellow, and Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, found that people who are infected with the U.K. variant of the coronavirus, known as B.1.1.7, are infectious nearly twice as long as people with non-B.1.1.7 SARS-CoV-2 and have higher viral loads.
February 19: Are COVID-19 vaccines safe for pregnant women? Here’s what we know, and don’t know (PolitiFact)
Observational data on pregnant people who’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 looks reassuring so far, but the vaccines in use in the U.S. have not yet been specifically tested for their effects on pregnant women, say experts. Pregnant women who opt to wait for more definitive information can take other steps to reduce their risk, such as “consistent mask-wearing, hand-washing and limiting activities,” said Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental, reproductive and women’s health.
February 19: Can COVID vaccines stop transmission? Scientists race to find answers (Nature)
Studies are underway to determine whether COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to protecting people from getting sick, can also prevent them from becoming infected and passing the virus on to others. “These are among the hardest types of studies to do,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
February 18: Americans still need a lifeline despite trillions in coronavirus aid (The Conversation)
Despite trillions of dollars in government assistance to blunt the economic pain of the pandemic, many Americans are still struggling to pay for basic necessities, and much more aid is needed, wrote Mary Findling, research associate, John Benson, senior research scientist, and Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus.
February 18: Seeded amid the many surprises of COVID times, some unexpected positives (Harvard Gazette)
Dean Michelle Williams was one of nine Harvard experts who commented on some unexpected positives from the COVID-19 pandemic. She said that the field of public health “is now embedded in the public consciousness,” noting that the pandemic has prompted long-overdue dialogues about health inequities, innovations in telehealth, and greater focus on mental health.
February 18: White House announces $4 billion in funding for Covax, the global vaccine effort that Trump spurned (Washington Post)
The U.S. is pledging $4 billion to support global efforts to fairly distribute COVID-19 vaccines. Sema Sgaier, adjunct assistant professor of global health, said, “These kinds of political commitments do matter and make a difference.”
February 18: CDC: COVID-19 causes historic tumble of life expectancy (Boston 25 News)
U.S. life expectancy dropped from 78.8 years to 77.8 years between 2019 and the first six months of 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. John McDonough, professor of the practice of public health, noted that cases and mortality rates rose even more in the last six months of 2020, “so this is just an early warning.” He said the drop in life expectancy “reflects a stunning decline in overall population health in the United States,” citing rising levels of obesity and chronic diseases.
February 18: How patent laws get in the way of the global coronavirus vaccine rollout (The Conversation)
Experts said that much of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capacity is untapped because of patent laws. Mosoka Fallah, part-time lecturer, said that “basically Africa right now does not have any substantive way to acquire the [coronavirus] vaccines” because they can’t afford it at the current market price. He is advocating for more equitable access to the vaccines.
February 17: Attack America’s overlapping miseries: Why going big on relief is an economic, public health and moral imperative (New York Daily News)
In this op-ed, four experts from Harvard Chan School—Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, Christian Testa, statistical analyst, Pamela Waterman, project director, and Jarvis Chen, lecturer—urged political leaders to “go big” on economic relief for people and communities across the U.S. They cited “the miseries of COVID-19 and its economic determinants and impacts,” noting high rates of COVID-19 deaths, food insecurity, and inability to pay rent, with the brunt of the impact falling on people of color.
February 17: Clarifying the evidence on SARS-CoV-2 antigen rapid tests in public health responses to COVID-19 (The Lancet)
This op-ed co-authored by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, pushed back against criticisms of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 as being not sensitive enough. The co-authors argued that the criticisms were based on misinterpretation of data.
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, commented on Massachusetts’ decision to expand its COVID-19 vaccination pool by about 1 million residents. “It’s a positive step,” he said. “But with every step, the question is: Can supply meet demand in a way that’s viewed as timely, convenient, and fair?”
February 17: There are 6.9 million people in Mass. Here’s why the state goal is to vaccinate 4.1 million of them (Boston Globe)
Massachusetts’ current target of vaccinating 4.1 million out of the state’s 6.9 million people—roughly 60% of the population—would be a big step toward herd immunity, but experts recommended aiming for an even bigger portion over time. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health and a member of the state’s vaccine advisory group, said he would like to see 75% of the state’s population vaccinated, noting that a higher level of immunized people and/or booster shots might be necessary to protect against vaccine resistant variants. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said that the current target “may well need to be upgraded once children are able to be vaccinated, hopefully sometime later this year.”
Experts are worried about people creating categories of “good vaccines” and “bad vaccines,” based on simplified narratives about clinical trial results that don’t focus on the fact that any approved vaccine will offer significant protection against COVID-19. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said he’s concerned that decisions to use certain vaccines in certain settings will be seen through a lens of racial or socioeconomic inequality, even if those decisions are being made in order to roll out vaccines as quickly as possible.
Reducing COVID-19 cases as much as possible, through measures like masking and distancing, is “the best thing we could possibly do to improve the chances that the vaccine will continue working,” according to Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. If the virus continues circulating at high levels, that will mean more opportunity for it to potentially infect people who’ve been vaccinated and to try to work around their immunity, he said.
February 17: The High-Tech Upgrades of the Pandemic Office Are Mostly for Show (Curbed)
UV lights, thermal scanners, and smartphone key fobs for opening door are being used in some office buildings to increase safety and hygiene during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, says that measures like these are mostly for show because the primary way COVID-19 spreads is through the air.
February 16: CDC says it’s time to double up on masks (WINK News, Ft. Myers, FL)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
February 15: Scientists Are Trying to Spot New Viruses Before They Cause Pandemics (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed his idea about creating an immense surveillance system that can check blood samples from all over the world for the presence of antibodies to hundreds of different viruses. The system, which Mina and his collaborators call the Global Immunological Observatory, could offer early notice of outbreaks, similar to how a weather forecasting system can warn about upcoming storms.
February 15: What To Expect After Getting A COVID-19 Vaccine (GBH)
Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, answered questions about COVID-19 vaccine side effects. “All the vaccines will have some side effects, and those are natural and expected parts of the vaccination process,” he said. “It’s an indication that the vaccine is doing what it should be doing and it’s working to stimulate the immune system.”
February 15: How to Stay Mentally Resilient During and After the Pandemic (Psychology Today)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, quoted
February 14: Is it safe to visit grandparents after getting the Covid vaccine? (NBC Evening News)
Experts say that it will be safe to gather in small groups if everyone in the group has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But they recommended continuing to take precautions in public, both because the vaccine isn’t 100% effective and because it may be still be possible to transmit the virus to others even after vaccination. “We don’t know so much about whether or not [the vaccines] are able to prevention infection, meaning you might become infected and unwittingly transmit it to others,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
February 13: Analysis: State administers record 132,000 vaccine doses in 24 hours (Newsday)
Preparedness fellow Rachael Piltch-Loeb said that it’s a problem that COVID-19 vaccination sign-ups in New York are done through a confusing array of websites and phone numbers. “Those have not been centralized into one kind of hub,” she noted. “Currently, we don’t have one functioning system.” She attributed the problems to “a super-strapped public health and health care workforce that’s been asked to do so much, and now roll out a vaccine on top of it.”
February 12: Deaths in Nursing Homes During the COVID-19 Pandemic—Lessons from Japan (JAMA Health Forum)
In the U.S., 35% of all deaths from COVID-19 have been among nursing home residents, compared with 14% in Japan. In this article, Kazuhiro Abe, Takemi Fellow, and Ichiro Kawachi, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Social Epidemiology, cited reasons that Japan was able to manage a much lower proportion of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes than the U.S.—including having smaller facilities, higher staff ratios, higher wages for care workers, and more consistent enforcement and supervision of nursing home standards and guidelines.
February 12: Opinion: The CDC’s latest demands will keep millions of kids out of school unnecessarily (Washington Post)
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes the recommendation that school reopening decisions should be tied to community spread of COVID-19. In this opinion piece, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, and co-author Helen Jenkins of Boston University argue that linking reopenings to community spread poses “major problems,” and that the report “adds new and unnecessary demands that will ultimately keep millions of kids out of school.”
February 12: Why you shouldn’t get a covid antibody test after your vaccine (Washington Post)
Experts say not to bother getting tested for COVID-19 antibodies, even if you think you have them after getting COVID-19 and may therefore be immune. “Don’t try to second-guess the vaccine,” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Just get vaccinated.” Natural immunity can vary, the experts say, and it may not protect against new variants. Vaccines are likely to provide better protection.
February 12: Don’t hate the vaccine tourists, hate the vaccine game (VOX)
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted “vaccine tourism”—when people with resources and connections cut the vaccine line and travel to get a shot wherever they can find one. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that it’s hard to fault someone for trying to get a vaccine. “There is no easy fix that I see, and it is hard to blame those who are entitled to get a vaccine in their own state but can’t access it for trying elsewhere,” he said.
February 12: Covid-19: Is Manaus the final nail in the coffin for natural herd immunity? (BMJ)
The city of Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon is experiencing a second severe wave of COVID-19. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he suspects the increase in cases could be due to a coronavirus variant called P.1, which may be more transmissible and better able to evade antibodies from previous strains.
February 11: Airports have taken steps to reduce coronavirus transmission but risks still remain, study says (Washington Post)
Airports have put a number of strategies into place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as installing clear barriers and frequently cleaning. But more needs to be done, such as upgrading ventilation systems and limiting eating and drinking where large number of travelers gather, according to a new report from Harvard Chan School researchers. Wendy Purcell, research associate in the Department of Environmental Health, and Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, were quoted.
February 11: Is Gov. Baker’s ‘Younger Companion’ Vaccination Idea The Right Call? (GBH News)
Some experts are questioning a new Massachusetts initiative that enables people accompanying those aged 75 or older to a COVID-19 mass vaccination site to get a shot as well. Given that people over age 75 are most at risk of dying from the disease, “anything that one can do reasonably to reach and get to these people, many of whom are not able to get around on their own, is at least a constructive idea,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health and a member of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group. “The down side … is that if it is not a family member and it’s an Uber driver, it skews the equity and fairness arrangements, so that younger people are getting vaccine simply because they drive an Uber. I don’t expect much of that, but it’s possible and it would be unfortunate.”
Requiring rapid testing of all airline passengers could help reduce the risk of COVID-19 during air travel, and would be more effective than measures such as temperature checks, according to a new report from the Aviation Public Health Initiative. “We think it would be a plus to see testing across the board,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.
The White House is considering imposing domestic travel restrictions, including on Florida, to target COVID-19 variants. Florida has seen a recent explosion in cases of a variant known as B.1.1.7, originally detected in the U.K. Although the variant has already spread to 34 states, Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said that a travel restriction could at least slow its exportation.
February 11: Prioritize Public Health Officers to Increase Preparedness for Future Threats (Homeland Security Today)
In this perspective article, Katie Klatt, a master of public health in health management student, and Richard Serino, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and former chief of Boston EMS, wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the importance of public health. They recommended that industries create the role of public health officer or adviser “to provide insight and guidance for how to ensure a healthy workforce and population.”
February 11: How Long Can COVID Cases Keep Plummeting? (New York Magazine)
In this Q&A, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed COVID-19 seasonality, vaccines, herd immunity, testing, variants, genomic surveillance of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, serological testing, and planning for future epidemics.
February 11: 4 out of 10 American deaths last year could have been avoided says a new analysis (The Guardian)
U.S. COVID-19 deaths—roughly 470,000, the highest in the world—could have been 40% less if the nation’s death rates had been similar to death rates in comparable high-income countries, according to a new Lancet commission analysis that assessed Donald Trump’s health policy record. The commission attributed the nation’s pandemic failures both to Trump and to a degraded public health infrastructure. Commission member 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, “The U.S. has fared so badly with this pandemic, but the bungling can’t be attributed only to Mr. Trump, it also has to do with these societal failures … That’s not going to be solved by a vaccine.”
February 11: Worries About Viral Resistance to Covid-19 Vaccines Are Overdone (Bloomberg Businessweek)
Experts say that COVID-19 vaccines will continue to provide protection even from emerging variants, and that vaccines can be tweaked in the months ahead to be more effective against variants. “There is no reason to get panicky,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “There is reason to keep a close eye on it.”
February 11: Biden raises hopes for new course to jump-start rapid COVID-19 tests (The Hill)
Although the Biden administration is planning to scale up rapid at-home COVID-19 tests, some experts say that more is needed. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the nation needs millions of cheap, simple, and quick tests that people can use several times a week. He praised the administration’s initial steps but said that they “fall quite short of anything that I’ve been discussing. But I believe it means that they are willing to try.”
February 11: Experts say school closures are hurting teens’ mental health (Axios)
The isolation forced by the pandemic is harming mental health, particularly that of teens and young adults, say experts. “It’s the young adults and the children who are being impacted and the effects are going to be long-lasting,” said Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health.
February 11: Cheap and quick: Could rapid antigen testing be the way out of lockdown? (Irish Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
February 10: Primary Care Doctors Are Left Out of the Vaccine Rollout (New York Times)
Primary care doctors, who have traditionally administered nearly half of all adult vaccinations, have been largely excluded from the nation’s vaccine rollout, which has relied mostly on mass vaccination sites and drugstore chains. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, said that when the vaccine supply increases it will be essential to rely more on primary care doctors, who can play an important role in the rollout.
February 10: Do the math: Vaccines alone won’t get us out of this pandemic (STAT)
Although vaccines are essential to helping combat COVID-19, they represent only part of the picture, according to this opinion piece by research associate Iain MacLeod. He laid out the challenges of achieving herd immunity, and wrote, “It’s time to stop promoting the myopic belief that the unrealistic goal of herd immunity can be achieved in 2021 and start looking to reinforcing all aspects of the health care response as we start to concede that Covid-19 will become an endemic disease that will continue to lurk in the population.”
February 10: Upgrade your mask as more-transmissible COVID strain surges (Harvard Gazette)
Even with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, it’s crucial to continue to wear masks to protect against a contagious new variant that is circulating, said Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, recommended using medical grade masks, such as N95s or KF94s, or double masks.
February 10: U.S. still falling short on basic tools to fight the virus (Politico)
Experts say that the U.S. still doesn’t have enough of the tools necessary to fight COVID-19—such as testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, high-quality masks, and data collection. It’s also falling short on genomic surveillance to track new variants. Discussing testing, Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said it will be important for people who take home COVID-19 tests to report that information to public health officials, and for people who are vaccinated but who still get sick to get tested, so that experts can assess whether a new variant is circulating.
February 10: White House looks at domestic travel restrictions as COVID mutation surges in Florida (McClatchy DC Bureau)
The Biden administration is considering whether to impose travel restrictions to slow the spread of new coronavirus variants such as B.1.1.7, which has spread to 34 states and is concentrated in places like Florida and California. Research fellow Stephen Kissler said that such restrictions could provide a longer window to get people vaccinated. “Right now we’re in a race with the virus trying to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible, and B.1.1.7 is one of the most serious threats to that,” he said.
February 10: Covid-19 Vaccine Distribution: One of the Most Complex Tasks in American Public Health History (NEJM Catalyst)
Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, discussed challenges in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, as well as examples of successful public-private partnerships for vaccine distribution.
February 10: The Unlikeliest Pandemic Success Story (The Atlantic)
Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, said that a public-health focus on prevention in Bhutan, a tiny and poor nation in South Asia, has helped it handle the pandemic much better than the U.S., a nation with far more resources. Article written by Madeline Drexler, visiting scientist and former editor of Harvard Public Health.
February 10: Is The Biden Administration Doing Enough To Boost COVID-19 Testing? (WBUR)
The Biden administration is moving ahead with plans that boost production of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests by 61 million by the end of the summer, but some experts say much more is needed. “The 61 million by the end of the summer is simply not going to cut it,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has long advocated for more simple rapid tests that could be produced in the tens of millions every day, enabling people to test themselves repeatedly at home.
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and other experts discussed possible reasons for a drop in COVID-19 cases and deaths, and how the presence of more transmissible variants could affect the future spread of disease.
February 9: This Simple Solution Could Sharply Lower COVID-19 Infections, Harvard Medical Doctor Says (Daily Signal podcast)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed how rapid COVID-19 tests could dramatically reduce cases and allow much of the economy to reopen—and why these tests haven’t been made widely available.
February 9: Rapid coronavirus tests: a guide for the perplexed (Nature)
Some experts question the use of rapid coronavirus tests, saying they’re not sensitive enough in detecting COVID-19 and could miss cases. But Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, says that if the tests are used widely and frequently, they can significantly slow the spread of infection. “We’re in the middle of a war—we really can’t get any worse than we are at the moment in terms of the case counts,” he said.
February 9: Variants mean the coronavirus is here to stay — but perhaps as a lesser threat (Washington Post)
The coronavirus is likely to become a persistent disease threat, but experts think its deadliness will dissipate over time. “What’s the endgame? When does it stop? When do we wave a checkered flag and say all this is over? It has to do with watching the ICUs return to normal and seeing the excess deaths limited,” said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “I don’t think the virus will be eliminated, and there won’t be a clear moment to celebrate, because the pandemic is so hyperlocal—there will be no synchronized conclusion.”
February 9: WHO Is Fighting False COVID Info On Social Media. How’s That Going? (NPR)
Although the World Health Organization has made some headway in convincing tech companies to tamp down on COVID-19 misinformation on social media platforms, actions taken by the companies have not been enough, say some experts. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, was quoted.
February 8: South Africa pauses rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine (The World)
After a study found that the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine offered only minimal protection against mild and moderate cases from a fast-spreading COVID-19 variant, South Africa paused its rollout of the vaccine. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that “there is still significant protection from three of the existing vaccines” against the variant. He added that, given the emergence of several COVID-19 variants around the world, it’s important to continue with public health measures such as wearing masks.
February 8: COVID Variants’ Spread Makes Vaccination Push More Urgent, With Mass. Already Behind (Greater Boston)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he expects the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant, originally detected in the U.K., to be the dominant variant in much of the U.S. within a few months. He said that the lack of a strong genomic surveillance program for variants in the U.S. means that “there are large parts of the country where we’re pretty much flying blind in terms of knowing exactly what lineages are circulating.” He said accelerating vaccination as much as possible “is the best defense we have against these variants.”
February 8: COVID Q&A: How effective is your mask? How to protect against contagious variant (San Jose Mercury News)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, and other experts offered advice on how to choose and wear masks to protect against highly transmissible COVID-19 variants.
February 8: Biden administration sends conflicting signals on school reopenings (The Hill)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
February 8: Inside the Worst-Hit County in the Worst-Hit State in the Worst-Hit Country (The New Yorker)
Atul Gawande—professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, author, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair— wrote about the sharp divisions among the residents of Minot, North Dakota regarding how to deal with surging coronavirus cases and deaths in their community.
February 8: How coronavirus is impacting mental health in the Gulf region (Arabian Business)
Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health, said that the pandemic has contributed to work-related stress and gave employers tips on how to foster employees’ mental well-being. He also discussed the stigma around mental health and how to mitigate it.
February 8: COVID vaccine inequity frustrates Massachusetts’ diverse, lower-income cities hardest hit by virus (Telegram & Gazette)
Lack of enough COVID-19 vaccination sites in Massachusetts’ diverse and lower-income cities, and a slow rollout rate among Black and Hispanic populations, are contributing to disparities in vaccine equity and access, say experts. Rebekka Lee, research scientist at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Massachusetts Public Health Association Task Force on Coronavirus and Equity, said that “the state needs to improve efforts around engagement with communities of color.”
February 7: Where Do Vaccine Doses Go, and Who Gets Them? The Algorithms Decide (New York Times)
To distribute COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government has been using an automated algorithm to divvy up doses among states, and states have created their own allocation systems to divide vaccines among various providers. The result has been wide disparities in vaccine access across the U.S., say experts. Rebecca Weintraub, a faculty member at Ariadne Labs, was quoted.
February 7: It’s ‘delusional’ for Biden to use Defense Production Act for vaccines: Expert (Yahoo! Finance)
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, and other experts discussed the challenges of producing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines.
February 7: 60 Black Health Experts Urge Black Americans to Get Vaccinated (New York Times)
Dean Michelle Williams and 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, were among 60 black health experts urging Black Americans to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Jay Winsten, director of the Initiative on Communication Strategies for Public Health, discussed the need for consistency and transparency in communicating to the public about the coronavirus pandemic, and the importance of conducting research on the type of messaging that is likely to resonate with people.
February 7: Mass vaccinations: How stadiums host a COVID defensive play (CBS Sunday Morning)
Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, Ariadne Labs founder and chair, and former COVID-19 adviser to the Biden-Harris transition team, discussed his role helping arrange to open a COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home of the New England Patriots.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a student at Harvard Chan School and a Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman—and the only medical school graduate in the NFL—discussed his decision to opt out of the football season in order to work at a long-term health care facility near Montreal.
February 6: Calls grow for US to rely on rapid tests to fight pandemic (Washington Post)
Although rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than gold-standard PCR tests at detecting COVID-19, they are very good at catching the virus at its most infectious, and could therefore be a crucial tool in stopping the spread of disease, according to Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
February 5: Vaccines alone won’t solve the pandemic. Here are 3 other things we must do. (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Atul Gawande—professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, Ariadne Labs founder and chair, and former COVID-19 adviser to the Biden-Harris transition team—and co-authors argued that managing current and future coronavirus variants will require not just vaccines but more genomic surveillance, vaccines that can immunize against multiple disease strains, and new COVID-19 treatments.
February 5: Public health is being undermined. These 10 actions can restore it (STAT)
In this opinion piece, Dean Michelle Williams outlined 10 ways to address challenges that have undermined public health for decades.
Experts say that the Biden administration’s deal to ramp up production of the first fully over-the-counter COVID-19 test, a rapid antigen test produced by the Australian company Ellume, is too little and too late to make a dent in the pandemic. Both Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and former COVID-19 advisor to the Biden transition team, and Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, expressed concerns about the test’s $30 pricetag—too expensive for most Americans to use on a regular basis—and the smartphone app linked to the test, which requires some tech savvy to use. “It’s not going to be an effective tool to really stop spread,” said Mina, who has pushed for cheap, rapid paper-strip tests.
February 5: Israel’s Vaccination Results Point a Way Out of Virus Pandemic (New York Times)
In Israel, which leads the world in vaccinating its citizens, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations dropped dramatically among people who were vaccinated within a few weeks, new studies have found. Experts say the evidence is heartening. “I find this pretty persuasive that we are seeing actual effects of population-level vaccination,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
February 4: Meaning of vaccine rules keeps shifting at NC prisons (Carolina Public Press)
Prison staff in North Carolina—but not prisoners—have been moved to the top of the priority list for COVID-19 vaccines. “If your priority was to limit spread to the outside community, you would prioritize it that way,” said Natalia Linos, executive director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. But she said that not providing vaccines to prisoners “doesn’t make sense” from a human rights perspective. “You’re basically leaving them in a state of increased vulnerability and risk and not doing anything about that increased risk,” she said.
February 4: Improving coronavirus numbers spark debate over cause, restrictions (Washington Times)
Declining numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are likely due to Americans staying home and following safety guidelines, and to the end of a crest of cases that stemmed from holiday gatherings, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
February 4: Expert: Decreasing future COVID-19 spread indoors (KCBS Radio)
In a radio interview, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, said that although it seems that COVID-19 spikes from holiday gatherings have begun to ease, people still need to take precautions because of new more contagious variants that are circulating. He stressed the importance of wearing masks and discussed the benefits of different types of masks. He also discussed the importance of good ventilation in buildings, planes, and cruise ships.
February 4: Double Face Masks? N95? Protect Yourself Against New Covid-19 Variants With These Mask Upgrades (Wall Street Journal)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, discussed the differences between various face masks to protect against COVID-19, including the N95, KN95, and KF94.
February 4: Virus variants have us back where we were a year ago (Washington Post)
It appears that currently available vaccines will be “effective enough” against emerging COVID-19 variants, wrote William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, in this op-ed. But “we can expect others to emerge and spread if they are better at transmission,” he wrote, adding, “Now we find ourselves nervously tracking variants with properties that are uncertain but which are surely enough to take seriously. It is reasonable to think they might be very serious indeed.”
February 4: A Parallel Pandemic Hits Health Care Workers: Trauma and Exhaustion (New York Times)
Health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic are burned out and psychologically traumatized. With some falling ill and others quitting, those left on the job must work harder, and the quality of care will suffer, according to Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management. “It’s a recipe for a collapse in the work force,” he said. Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that health care workers who contract COVID-19 may suffer greater health challenges than others because they’re exposed to higher levels of virus. “Covid could impact our health care system for years to come by not only depleting our work force but by impairing the ability of survivors to do their jobs,” he said.
February 4: Super Bowl Party or Superspreader Event? (New York Times)
People who gather indoors with people that they don’t live with to watch the Super Bowl could easily spread COVID-19 if they talk loudly, cheer, or snack through the game, experts say. “It’s not like Thanksgiving where millions and millions are traveling, but will we see cases linked to Super Bowl parties at people’s homes? I think most definitely yes,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
February 3: The Case For Reopening Schools (WFAE)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, discussed the difficult decisions surrounding school reopenings on the radio show “Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins.”
February 3: Vaccine News Gives Hope for Spring, if Enough People Get the Shots (New York Times)
COVID-19 vaccines provide hope that the pandemic will ease in the U.S., although experts say there are hurdles ahead, including inequities in vaccine access, case levels that are still nearly twice as high as last summer’s peak, and contagious new variants circulating. Globally, poorer countries are at a disadvantage because wealthy countries have purchased most of the world’s supply of vaccines. “I think in the rich world, we have a lot to feel good about for vaccines, but globally, it’s a different story,” noted Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
February 3: Can the U.S. keep COVID variants in check? Here’s what it takes (Salon)
Continued COVID-19 precautions such as masking and physical distancing, as well as improved genomic surveillance, are key to keeping variants of the virus in check, say experts. Right now the U.S. has one of the weakest genomic surveillance programs of any rich country, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “As it is, people like me cobble together partnerships with places and try and beg them” for samples, he said.
February 3: Covid-19 Mutations Make Immunity Math Incredibly Daunting (Bloomberg Quint)
It’s tough for experts to predict when populations will achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 because of changing conditions, including new more infectious variants and questions about how well vaccines will work against them. This opinion piece quoted from a December essay by Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, who noted that even if vaccines work less well against variants, they appear to be very effective at keeping people from dying of COVID-19—which would mean that “the toll on the health system and the mortality toll is dramatically reduced.”
February 3: The Five Things to Get Right Before the Next Pandemic (Bloomberg)
Careful preparation can help protect the U.S. from the next pandemic, according to experts. They recommend focusing on five areas of research and investment, including pathogen surveillance, repairing and augmenting the World Health Organization, genetic sequencing of viruses, developing more vaccines faster, and ironing out distribution and logistics. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was quoted.
Current COVID-19 vaccines may be somewhat less effective against emerging variants, but data suggests that the vaccines will prevent a lot of mild and moderate cases, and should be very effective at preventing severe cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that COVID-19 vaccines may need to be tweaked over time as new variants of the virus emerge—which is a typical strategy in stopping the spread of infections.
February 2: Worrisome coronavirus mutation seen in U.K. variant and in some U.S. samples (Washington Post)
A coronavirus mutation called E484K—nicknamed “Eeek”—has infectious disease experts worried because it may limit how much vaccines can protect against COVID-19. The mutation has appeared multiple times in coronavirus lineages around the world, but experts noted that its presence doesn’t necessarily change how the virus functions. Virus lineages that undergo functional changes are called “variants.” William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “The thing about the variants is that they are characterized by multiple mutations.” He added that while mutations can hamper immunity, they don’t obliterate it. “It’s not that immunity falls off a cliff,” he said. “Some people will still be somewhat protected.”
February 2: Colorado Mesa University Helps Researchers Studying COVID-19 Genome (CBS Denver)
Computational biologist Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, is collaborating with Colorado Mesa University (CMU) on a project to track coronavirus mutations and how they spread. CMU is collecting genomic material from positive COVID-19 tests among students and others and sending it to the Sabeti lab for analysis. In looking for mutations, Sabeti said that those “making the virus more infectious is definitely something I’m concerned about. I’m actually more concerned about making the virus more lethal, or making the virus lethal to children. Viruses change—we don’t know where they will change.”
February 2: Those Most Likely to Get Covid Are Last in Line for Vaccines (WIRED)
Early data suggests stark racial disparities in who is getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Top priority has been to vaccinate frontline workers and those over 65. Noted Natalia Linos, executive director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, “In some ways, the fact that age has become such a common eligibility criterion risks building in inequities by race and ethnicity.”
February 1: Cardenas previews COVID-19 package to address racial inequities (CQ Roll Call)
This article described proposed legislation in Congress that aims to address equity and mental health issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and it quoted Dean Michelle Williams, who spoke about mental health concerns for minority populations, frontline workers, and young people during a recent Chan School event.
February 1: Confused by pandemic data? Here’s some help reading it. (Christian Science Monitor)
John Quackenbush, Henry Pickering Walcott Professor of Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, quoted
February 1: How New York’s Vaccine Program Missed Black and Hispanic Residents (New York Times)
This op-ed by the New York Times’ Editorial Board quoted Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, and former New York City health commissioner. “It doesn’t take rocket science to see why Black and Latinx people aren’t getting the vaccine,” she said. “The people who have the capacity to access the vaccine now are people who are privileged. These are not the people who are facing the highest risk of getting sick and dying. This has to be solved.”
February 1: Rapid COVID Tests Are Finally Coming Soon to U.S. Homes (New York Magazine)
The first Food and Drug Administration-approved antigen test for COVID-19, made by the Australian company Ellume, will soon be available for rapid at-home use without a prescription. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that cheap, quick tests for COVID-19 “can be our backup. If we get people socialized to using these tests, we don’t have to find ourselves in this position again.”
February 1: What’s behind the dip in coronavirus cases? We ask specialists (Boston Globe)
Experts welcomed a decrease in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts in January, but warned that progress could be reversed by emerging coronavirus variants, a bumpy vaccine rollout, people’s resistance to pandemic limitations, and reopening workplaces and schools. “I am concerned that we are still spending too much time in the weeds of the moment and not enough planning for potential serious challenges,” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
February 1: Experts tout delaying 2nd COVID vaccine dose as US deaths mount (CIDRAP)
A number of experts are recommending vaccinating as many people as possible with one dose of COVID vaccine, without ensuring that people would receive the recommended second dose, in part because of the emergence of dangerous new variants. “I think this [strategy] is something on which reasonable people could disagree, but saying you should only do something supported by randomized evidence when there’s an emergency would have precluded us from using masks, social distancing, from doing all the things we know are good public health practices,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “There’s an old saying that we wouldn’t use parachutes or aspirin if we waited for randomized trials, either.”
February 1: His team is going to the Super Bowl. He’s staying on the coronavirus front lines. (Washington Post)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a former offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, opted out of this year’s football season so he could work at a COVID-19-stricken long-term-care facility near his native Montreal, putting his medical degree to use. He has also been taking remote epidemiology and biostatistics classes at Harvard Chan School and working toward a doctorate in public health.
February 1: Amid COVID-19 Variants, There Is An Increased Urgency For Vaccinations (NPR)
Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and previous adviser to President Biden, discussed Johnson & Johnson’s forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine, the need to continue wearing masks, and the importance of further reducing transmission of the virus in order to ensure that more dangerous variants don’t crop up.
January 31: Florida Department of Health discusses struggles with vaccine rollout (WINK News)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
January 31: Pool testing at home for protection against COVID-19; some on board, others see potential problem (MetroWest Daily News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 30: Coronavirus mutations add urgency to vaccination effort as experts warn of long battle ahead (Washington Post)
Dangerous new variants may mean a that a higher level of herd immunity, perhaps 80% of 85%, will be needed to slow down the pandemic. “We will not be for decades dealing with a pandemic,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “The concern is whether it will be a year or three years until we can make enough vaccines against enough strains to get this under control.”
January 30: Coronavirus variant finding in Minnesota raises troubling questions (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called newly emerging coronavirus variants “serious causes of concern, but we don’t know enough about them at the moment to be able to be definitive.” He said the lack of certainty “should be a very strong impetus to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
January 30: Is a COVID variant already in Kansas and Missouri? Here’s why health officials worry (Kansas City Star)
Experts discussed the potential dangers of coronavirus variants. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, and Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, were quoted.
January 29: Mass. will offer more help for people struggling to get vaccination appointments (Boston Globe)
Discussing problems with Massachusetts’ online registration system for COVID-19 vaccines, research scientist Rebekka Lee said the system could exacerbate inequities because it can pose difficulties for non-native English speakers, people with limited access to the Internet, or those who aren’t tech savvy. “We don’t want this registration infrastructure … to widen inequalities in access, and as we go through each phase, the number of people who are eligible is going to grow and grow and grow,” she said.
January 29: The global line for coronavirus vaccines stretches back to 2023 (Axios)
Low-income countries are at the back of the line to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said, “Right now, it is the law of the jungle.”
Epidemiologists say that the longer COVID-19 spreads, the more likely it is that dangerous strains will emerge—and therefore it’s imperative to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. “We’re absolutely racing to get prevalence down as quickly as we can, because we never know what the next mutation might be,” said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School. Basic measures such as wearing masks and maintaining physical distance from others remain crucial to protect against dangerous strains while we wait for vaccinations, experts said. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that as much as 80% of the population will have to be immunized. “There needs to be a firebreak to the wildfire of the virus,” he said.
A chaotic vaccine rollout and a distribution process that varies across states has resulted in wildly uneven access to COVID-19 vaccines among teachers in the U.S. “This is insanity,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “The current distribution process makes very little sense in a time of a national emergency,” he said.
January 29: A Massive Startup Is Challenging What It Means For A COVID-19 Test To Be Accurate (BuzzFeed News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 29: A year into the pandemic, where are all the fast, easy home tests? (CNN)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the benefits of fast and easy home COVID-19 tests and why they’re not widely available yet in the U.S.
January 29: Boston Public Radio Full Show: 1/29/21 (Boston Public Radio)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant secretary of health in the Obama administration, spoke about Johnson & Johnson’s forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine, the risks from coronavirus variants, President Biden’s handling of the pandemic during his first 10 days in office, and the bumpy vaccine rollout in Massachusetts.
January 28: Are We Hurtling or Hurdling Towards Herd Immunity for COVID-19? (PLOS)
Describing the concept of herd immunity, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said, “The herd immunity threshold is the point at which vaccination alone can stop transmission in the community without any other counters like shutdowns and masks. That point comes when each infection leads to less than one new infection, so the number of infections goes down.” Lipsitch and Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, both said that delaying second shots of the currently available mRNA COVID vaccines—an idea that’s been floated as a way to stretch the thin supply of vaccines—could slow or stall reaching herd immunity. Said Biddinger, “Herd immunity needs maximal immunization efficacy. The second dose is what it takes to be fully vaccinated.”
January 28: In Florida, with its large Brazilian community, worries over Covid variant (NBC News)
Concerns are emerging over the potential spread of the highly contagious Brazilian variant of the coronavirus, known as P.1, in Florida, which has a large Brazilian community. The Brazilian variant was first identified in the U.S. in Minnesota, in a resident who had recently traveled to Brazil, on January 25. “The importation of P.1 to the U.S. is not surprising,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Air passenger volumes from Brazil to the U.S. are large and the variant is increasingly common in at least some parts of Brazil.”
Many states are not publishing key information about COVID-19 vaccinations, such as demographic breakdowns of who has been vaccinated and where the vaccinations occurred, say experts. “We don’t have a timely, coordinated national public health data infrastructure to track how the vaccination is proceeding,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health.
January 28: Building trust in COVID-19 vaccines is key to controlling the pandemic. Here’s why some are hesitant (PBS NewsHour)
Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, and former New York City health commissioner, said that the encouraging news about the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines was offset during the Trump administration by “an extraordinarily disorganized” national response to the pandemic. She noted that vaccine hesitancy stems from race-based disparities and patient abuses in the past. To ease such skepticism, public health officials and medical experts must be resourceful and creative, she said. “I don’t think there’s a magic bullet here,” she said. “It’s persistence. It’s repetition. It’s showing up. It’s willingness to address in an open way, and acknowledge ways the health care delivery system has failed.”
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, former Massachusetts commissioner of public health, and former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration, said that a lack of investment in public health infrastructure has led to problems with rolling out COVID-19 vaccines both in Massachusetts and nationally. “I’m hoping that, as we get through these bumps and we get into the next phase of vaccination in the state, we can also invest seriously as a nation in making these systems better for future challenges,” he said.
January 28: Will global health learn from COVID-19 collateral damage? (Devex)
The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted global responses to diseases such tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, according to experts. Progress has also been reversed on global health priorities such as reducing maternal mortality and preventing deaths from noncommunicable diseases. Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams said she hopes the pandemic will serve as a wake-up call about how “weak global public health infrastructure can bring us all to our knees.”
January 28: Raging virus, few shots: How Brazil missed its chance to secure COVID-19 vaccines (Japan Times)
Brazil has one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks on the planet because of a series of missteps by its Health Ministry, which is led by military men with little public health experience, according to experts. Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, said that although Brazil has a long history of successful inoculation drives and state-funded production facilities to make vaccines, the federal government squandered these advantages. “It’s a succession of errors that began from the start of the pandemic,” she said. “And sadly, we’re measuring those mistakes in the number of deaths.”
January 28: Debate over reopening schools rages as CDC finds low COVID-19 spread if precautions taken (CBS Evening News)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, called school closures a “national emergency,” noting that new data from the CDC “supports that schools are not contributing in meaningful ways to community spread.”
January 27: Nursing and Nursing Leadership in Global Public Health (Nursing Economic$ podcast)
Dean Michelle Williams and Stephanie Ferguson, visiting fellow at Harvard Chan School, participated in a discussion on ways to ensure that nurses have the knowledge, skills, and ability to care for people at both the community-based level and around the world, to battle health care crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
January 27: Should you wear two masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19? (The Hill)
People in high-risk categories may want to try using a surgical mask beneath a cloth mask to protect against the coronavirus, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
January 27: After COVID, will the flu make a comeback? (Experience Magazine)
The flu and other respiratory viruses could spike after the COVID-19 pandemic eases, as people begin to gather and shed their masks, say experts. One way to address the issue would be collect blood samples from people across the country, to check for immunity levels to key viruses, according to Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. Then, if public health officials saw that collective immunity against a particular virus was waning, they could act before a big outbreak occurs, boosting vaccination and other preventive measures.
January 27: Inside the National COVID-19 Plan (Inside the Bubble: From the Frontlines)
On this podcast, Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed his recently finished work on the Biden transition’s COVID-19 task force, how best to handle vaccines and the schools, and what COVID-19 has taught him about the U.S. health care system, the nation’s politics, and its approach to death and dying.
January 27: COVID Vaccines: Ask The Experts (South Florida PBS Health Channel)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 27: Pandemic pushes mental health to the breaking point (Harvard Gazette)
Children, young adults, and frontline workers could suffer long-term mental health effects from the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts from Harvard Chan School, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation who spoke at a January 27 event. Chan School experts who spoke included Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, and Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health. Dean Michelle Williams gave opening remarks.
January 27: More Experts Call On Americans To Get A Better Mask — Or Two (GBH)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, talked with GBH’s Jim Braude about the importance of wearing better quality masks, such as medical-grade N95 masks, or double masks.
January 27: Spain running short of vaccines due to delivery delays (AP)
Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, quoted
January 27: Crushing the coronavirus: What’s Biden’s ‘clear, unified approach’ on testing? (ABC News)
Experts say that President Joe Biden’s plan to fight the pandemic will depend on how much he can build up the nation’s testing capacity. Part of his plan involves increasing the use of rapid antigen tests, which Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, has been urging for months. “The aggressive action [President Biden] could take in rapid-testing innovation really could help define a forward approach,” said Mina.
January 27: The “U.K.” COVID variant is in 19 Florida counties (Miami Herald)
A more contagious version of the coronavirus, known as “B.1.1.7,” is circulating quickly in Florida. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called the development “really worrying.” He added, “The fact it is so widespread in terms of counties indicates it is well established.”
January 27: Opinion: Everyone should be wearing N95 masks now (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, urged people to protect against the coronavirus by wearing N95 masks, which filter 95% of respiratory aerosols, especially if they are indoors. If people are unable to obtain these masks, Allen advised using a two- or three-layer cloth mask.
January 27: At-home Covid-19 tests offer promises — and questions (NBC News)
In this interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that rapid at-home coronavirus tests could significantly quell the spread of the virus. “If millions of Americans tested themselves at home twice a week, we would start to see dramatic reductions in cases within a month or two,” he said.
January 27: Worrisome New Coronavirus Strains Are Emerging. Why Now? (Wired)
The longer the coronavirus circulates among the world’s population, the more likely it is that the virus will develop mutations that can help it evade the immune system and become more infectious, say experts. Scientists are currently aware of three highly infectious coronavirus variants—originally detected in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, is worried that if governments and societies don’t do more to slow the speed of infectious, more dangerous mutations will emerge. “The fact that it’s happened three times already means we can expect it to continue happening,” he said.
January 26: Why Massachusetts Is Vaccinating Young, Healthy Researchers Before Seniors (GBH News)
In Massachusetts, the first batch of COVID-19 vaccinations have gone to health care workers, even those who don’t work directly with patients. “It effectively means that the elderly and vulnerable people who might need the vaccine first will, generally, be pushed back,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “We’re seeing just a huge number of people get vaccinated, who I think should, frankly, be way down the line.”
January 26: Doctors, Facing Burnout, Turn to Self-Care (New York Times)
A growing number of programs aim to help health care workers struggling with mental health issues—including #FirstRespondersFirst, a program from Harvard Chan School, Thrive Global, and the CAA Foundation.
January 25: First U.S. case of highly transmissible Brazil coronavirus variant identified in Minnesota (Washington Post)
A coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil, and later found in a patient in Minnesota, “is probably the one causing the most concern among people watching this,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. The Brazil variant and another variant originally identified in South Africa have caused particular concern among scientists because they contain mutations that may allow the virus to evade the effects of some antibodies to COVID-19, according to experts.
January 25: Combine federal funds to clear the air and reopen schools (The Hill)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, co-authored this op-ed calling for the use of federal funds to buy portable air cleaners for every classroom. “Improving ventilation and filtration, when combined with mask wearing, can help get kids back in school and keep them there during the pandemic,” the authors wrote.
January 25: Ohioans continue to contract COVID (The Courier)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 25: Experts welcome announcement that Moderna vaccine works on coronavirus variants, but concerns remain (Boston Globe)
Moderna announced that its coronavirus vaccine appears to protect people against variants of the virus originally detected in Britain and South Africa. But the vaccine appears to be somewhat less effective against the South Africa variant, so the company is exploring whether a booster shot might give more protection. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, noted that the finding adds to “the urgency for additional clinical trials regarding the best ways to protect people, including booster shots.”
Research fellow Stephen Kissler spoke with WBUR’s Bob Oakes about the state of the pandemic in Massachusetts, including the state’s recent decisions to lift some coronavirus restrictions, the possibility that a new variant will cause further spread of the disease, and the state’s vaccination priorities.
January 25: Will public trust in science survive the pandemic? (Chemical & Engineering News)
Experts say that the rapid evolution of COVID-19 science, mixed messaging from leaders, a torrent of misinformation, political interference in federal science agencies, and political polarization threaten to erode public trust in science. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, was quoted.
January 23: A pandemic playbook for a new year (CNN)
Several Harvard Chan School experts, including Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, discussed a range of pandemic-related topics, including testing, vaccines, and schools.
January 23: Minnesota on guard against coronavirus variants (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Variants of the coronavirus, including one that spread quickly across the United Kingdom, have been found in Minnesota and other U.S. states, but experts say that the nation lags in efforts to track these variants. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the U.S. does genetic epidemiology on just one-tenth the scale of the U.K. “It means that there could be some nasty surprises circulating among us that we don’t know about yet,” he said. “And we should be prepared to see them, if we start looking harder.”
January 23: Can Biden pull off 100 million COVID vaccinations in 100 days? Here are facts, data, and viewpoints. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said he thinks that part of President Biden’s coronavirus vaccination plans—to set up mass federally supported vaccination sites—should improve the efficiency in doling out vaccines.
January 22: Why more people are starting to wear two masks (Boston Globe)
People who are looking for more protection against the coronavirus but who don’t have access to high-filtration N95 masks could double-mask instead, according to some experts. “If you’re going to the grocery store or you are an essential worker coming in contact with a lot of people, I recommend wearing a cotton mask over a surgical mask which can catch more than 90% of respiratory aerosols,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
January 22: Immunologist says technology can keep up with COVID variants (Harvard Gazette)
Speaking at a recent Forum event, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said he expects that, ultimately, COVID-19 vaccines will be able to help win the war against the pandemic. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, also a panelist, noted that the use of masks and distancing measures may be needed for some time if it’s shown that vaccinated people are still able to transmit the virus.
January 21: Biden Coronavirus Plan ‘Major Step Forward,’ Says Former HHS Official (WGBH)
President Joe Biden has signed nearly a dozen executive orders related to the coronavirus pandemic since he was sworn in on January 20. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, praised Biden’s actions. “Prevention and public health sounds easy, but it’s not,” he said. “And what you need more than anything else is a national leader who steps up, addresses the public with the unvarnished truth in an unflinching way and then points out the steps that are needed to get us from this terrible pandemic back to some sense of normality. So that’s what the president has done today. It’s a very important first step, and now we have to make it happen.”
January 21: Why are Miami-Dade, Broward vaccinating Black residents at slower rate than white residents? (Miami Herald)
Florida’s COVID-19 vaccine operation has steadily left Black residents behind, according to state data. The process generally favors people who have access to the Internet and who can make online reservations before slots quickly fill up. In some cases, reservation windows are announced on Twitter. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that using social media to alert people about vaccine availability is “mind boggling” and not grounded in public health principles. “It’s absolutely biased against low-income vulnerable populations,” he said.
January 21: State says second case of coronavirus variant found in Massachusetts (Boston Globe)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
January 20: End the pandemic swiftly: Engage the public, pre-empt Covid-19 vaccination campaign disruptions (Times of India)
This opinion piece, co-authored by Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication and director of the India Research Center, stressed the importance of addressing mistrust of coronavirus vaccines in India by engaging with the public and pre-empting potential disruptions of COVID-19 vaccination efforts. “When people see the risk of Covid-19 as a serious threat, and have a high degree of trust in science, vaccine acceptance grows,” the authors wrote. “Transparency and trust are foundational to vaccine confidence and acceptance.”
January 19: Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction (CNN podcast)
In this interview with CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the game-changing potential of affordable at-home rapid testing for the coronavirus.
January 19: The coronavirus variant has officially arrived in Mass. Here’s what you should know (Boston Globe)
A highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. is now circulating in the U.S. and is expected to become the predominant source of all infections in the nation by March. Experts stressed the importance of taking precautions. “Concerns that the new variant could further exacerbate the pandemic in upcoming weeks should drive everyone to double down on prevention,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “That includes continued social distancing, mask wearing, avoiding crowds and getting ready for the vaccine when it is your turn to do so.” Other variants could also emerge, experts warn. “We need to do everything we can now…to get transmission as low as we possibly can,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “The best way to prevent mutant strains from emerging is to slow transmission.”
January 19: What can we expect from the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021? (Boston Globe)
Experts expect the next three months of the coronavirus pandemic to be grim, then expect things will slowly improve. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that while new strains of the virus are still rare in the U.S., he expects they will double as a share of cases every two weeks. “That gives us just a couple of months to get ahead of them with widespread vaccination,” he said.
January 18: U.S. coronavirus deaths projected to hit 500,000 in February, experts say it was avoidable (Boston Herald)
Research associate Iain MacLeod said that there’s not much that can be done to stop another 100,000 in the U.S. from dying from COVID-19, in addition to the 400,000 who have already died. “Unfortunately for those projected 100,000 individuals there’s a strong likelihood they are already infected or will be infected,” he said.
January 18: Another coronavirus variant linked to growing share of cases, several large outbreaks, in California (Washington Post)
Experts expressed concern about a coronavirus variant called L452R circulating in Northern California that has been linked to a fast-growing share of new cases. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that a mutation associated with the variant “has previously been noted as being of particular concern in terms of diminishing the efficacy of the immune response.”
January 18: COVID-19 testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing (The Hill)
Some local health departments across the U.S. are choosing to cut back on coronavirus testing as they roll out vaccines, because of funding and staff limitations. But widespread testing is still crucial to help contain the virus, say experts. “If the tradeoff is testing or vaccinations, then that’s a false tradeoff,” said Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. He said that the country is “many, many months away” from having vaccinated enough people so that widespread testing is no longer needed.
January 18: The Trump administration gave more than $850,000 in PPP loans to prominent anti-vaccine groups (Business Insider)
After it was reported that five top anti-vaccine advocacy groups received funding from the Trump administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that to call the loans ironic “doesn’t do justice to my feelings.” He said that anti-vaccine groups are “likely to perpetuate the adverse impacts of the pandemic.”
January 17: New COVID-19 Variants Emerge in the US and Experts Know Why (Science Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 16: How to (Literally) Drive the Coronavirus Away (New York Times)
A new study found that opening certain windows in cars can create air currents that can keep riders and drivers safer from infectious diseases such as COVID-19. With the driver in the front left seat and a single passenger in the back right to maximize social distancing, keeping the front right and rear left windows open creates an airflow “barrier” between the driver and the passenger, the study found. Opening car windows “is essentially bringing the outdoors inside, and we know that the risk outdoors is very low,” noted Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, who was not involved in the study.
January 16: When will the pandemic peak in Mass.? Too many variables make it hard to predict (Boston Globe)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the slow rollout of vaccines means it could be spring before Massachusetts turns a corner on the coronavirus. He stressed the need for more vaccinators, more vaccine supplies, more certainty about the availability of vaccines, and greater vaccine acceptance.
January 15: Florida health officials want to scrutinize coronavirus tests. But why? (Tampa Bay Times)
Experts discussed the pros and cons of examining data that shows how long it takes labs to detect positive COVID-19 test results from specimens, which can indicate how much virus is present. Research fellow Stephen Kissler noted that such data could provide a public health benefit by pinpointing highly infectious people and prioritizing them for contact tracing, and by shedding light on growing outbreaks.
On January 15, Gillette Stadium became Massachusetts’ first mass vaccination site. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, and a member of the state’s vaccine advisory group, said that moving to mass vaccination can’t happen fast enough, noting the daily rise in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths across the country. “And the more cases, the more viruses, and the more viruses, the more variants,” he said. “So there’s an urgent need, not only to control the disease in people but to reduce the number of viruses.”
January 15: What Do the New Coronavirus Variants Mean for the Pandemic? (FactCheck.org)
January 15: Inoculation process for elders, essential workers remains a muddle as rollout for next phase nears (Cambridge Day)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 15: Mass. pacing in middle for getting people vaccinated (WCVB)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that one way to push coronavirus vaccines out faster in Massachusetts would be to adopt the U.K.’s strategy of delaying the second dose so that more doses are available to give people at least one shot. “If we sit around and try to get every individual the best immune response, we can at the expense of most people having zero,” he said. “That’s going to be a problem.”
January 15: States want to vaccinate more people. But data on who has received a shot is lacking (NBC News)
COVID-19 vaccination reporting varies widely across the U.S., with some states releasing far less data to the public than others. “We need the best information possible from a population-based point of view—by community, by neighborhood, by race, by ethnicity, and we need that in real time,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “It’s got to be reliable, and just don’t have those robust systems right now.”
A new variant of the coronavirus is estimated to be 30% to 70% more contagious than the original strain. Given the high transmissibility, experts are recommending that people avoid optional gatherings with other people, even grocery store trips. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, offered an example of what a 50% rise in infectiousness would look like. “In less than two weeks, you get twice the number of cases,” he said. “And in a month or so, you have four, five times as many cases.”
January 14: Researchers test common drugs in quest for treatments for early COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
Antidepressants and vitamins are among the drugs researchers are studying in the quest for potential COVID-19 treatments. JoAnn Manson, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, is looking at whether vitamin D can reduce hospitalization or prevent transmission. She noted that Vitamin D has been shown in randomized trials to reduce the risk of other acute respiratory infections.
January 14: Apps to Let Travelers, Others Show COVID-19 Status (WebMD)
Although some nations are making plans to allow travelers who can show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, some experts say it’s still important to require testing because there are so many unknowns about vaccination. “There is modest evidence about some of the vaccines that they have some impact on transmission and infection, but how much is unclear,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “They are certainly not completely protective. Testing would be more meaningful than the vaccine at this point.”
January 14: 7 Reasons the COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Has Been Slow (AARP)
Reasons for the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout include a limited and uncertain vaccine supply and a lack of federal involvement in vaccine distribution. “For the vaccine rollout, as we’ve seen for so many other parts of the pandemic response, it’s been very much left to the states to take up the responsibility for making public health come alive on the ground,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “We need the federal coordination and leadership now.”
January 13: Bumpy road ahead for global COVID-19 vaccine rollout, experts say (Reuters)
Public health experts say that in order to gain ground against COVID-19 in 2021, it’s crucial to roll out vaccines as quickly as possible and to convince people that the vaccines are safe. “There was a lot of victory dancing and celebrating that we were bringing forward these great vaccines, but where we’ve fallen short is we’ve not paid attention to the operational discipline and competency needed to design and implement a vaccination program,” said Harvard Chan School Dean Michelle Williams.
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that members of Congress who recently contracted the coronavirus probably became infected after spending time in a lockdown room in the Capitol, where lawmakers huddled as rioters mobbed the building on January 6. Lawmakers in the room were not able to stay distant, and some didn’t wear masks. “It’s highly likely—and I think probable—that this is a superspreader event,” he said.
January 13: K-12 education appears on downward slide as pandemic continues (Harvard Gazette)
At a January 12 Forum event, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discussed the damage done to K-12 education during the coronavirus pandemic. He noted that although many schools went virtual early in the pandemic, the latest data suggests that keeping schools open is the wiser course. “The balance has changed, and there’s a sort of mantra now that schools should be the last to close and the first to open,” he said. “That really is based on the absolutely critical nature of schools…but also because the data are emerging that at least the younger grades are typically not major foci of transmission…if there are significant control measures in place.”
January 13: What we know about the new COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy (Politifact)
The Trump administration will make all current coronavirus vaccine supplies available to states rather than reserving supplies for the required second doses, under a new distribution strategy that is in line with President-elect Joe Biden’s plans. Commenting on why the strategy is shifting, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that evidence suggests there is some protection from only one dose, “and that we are reaching astronomical levels of hospitalizations and deaths.” He added, “Vaccines in storage do not save lives, so [this] decision…is an effort to save as many lives as possible as quickly as possible.”
January 13: Sweden Finally Tightens Covid Measures After Being Slammed by Virus (Bloomberg)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 12: Biden COVID Adviser Pushes For Simplified Vaccine Distribution Process (WGBH’s “Greater Boston”)
In an interview with WGBH’s Jim Braude, Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and a member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force, said that it should be as easy as possible for people to get coronavirus vaccines. “You shouldn’t have big eligibility requirements…in order to get the vaccine,” he said. “Yes, there will be occasional people who jump the line, but I think we can hold people [by] saying, ‘Look, we need to follow the honor system, we need to make this simpler, and we need as many of you waiting your turn. We need the people most at risk to get the vaccines first.’”
January 12: The Future of the Coronavirus? An Annoying Childhood Infection (New York Times)
A new study suggests it’s likely that once most adults are immune to the coronavirus, it will become “endemic”—a pathogen that circulates at low levels and rarely causes serious illness. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that one possibility is that the virus may wind up resembling the seasonal flu.
January 12: Scientists Warn Future Coronavirus Mutations Could Evade Vaccines and Treatments (Elemental)
January 12: With England in lockdown 3, it’s time ministers got it right on face masks (The Guardian)
In this opinion piece, co-authors Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Helen Jenkins of Boston University argued that England could tamp down its coronavirus surge if government ministers were more consistent in promoting mask wearing. “To keep the virus under control rather than boiling over, masks are crucial: they save lives,” the authors wrote.
January 11: Deciding Who Should Be Vaccinated First (New Yorker)
In this Q&A, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that figuring out who to prioritize for COVID-19 vaccination is an incredibly difficult task, given the vulnerability of a variety of groups, including elderly people, residents of nursing homes and other congregate settings, frontline workers, people with comorbidities, and hard-hit communities of color.
Experts say that current safety measures, including wearing masks and distancing, can help contain a highly transmissible new strain of coronavirus that is likely circulating in Massachusetts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “We have time to go until the vaccine is rolled out. … Even though we have reason to be hopeful in due course, that’s no reason to let our guard down now.”
January 11: CDC: No sign of homegrown U.S. coronavirus variant, but scientists need to look harder (Washington Post)
The U.S. has doesn’t have enough genomic sequencing capacity to be able to trace coronavirus mutations, at least one of which is now circulating in the nation. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that “surveillance is such that we’d not detect any such variant until it was already emerged and well established.”
January 11: A vaccine honor code will work (Boston Globe)
Distributing COVID-19 vaccines according to an honor code could minimize bureaucratic red tape and help hasten the rollout, according to this op-ed by Kate Miller, senior scientist at Ariadne Labs and research scientist at Harvard Chan School; Rebecca Weintraub, a faculty member at Ariadne Labs; and Atul Gawande, founder and chair of Ariadne Labs and a professor in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Health Policy and Management.
January 11: The Health 202: Recovered coronavirus patients should still get the vaccine, experts say (Washington Post)
Most epidemiologists recommend that people who’ve been previously infected with COVID-19 should still get vaccinated. Still, some say it’s OK for those individuals to delay getting their shots because it’s likely they have pretty good protection. “If I were over 70 or otherwise ill, I would certainly take the vaccine even if I’d had [COVID-19],” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “If I were 30 and healthy, I should not be getting it now (unless a health worker), but if for some reason I did get offered it, I would probably decline.”
January 11: When can we plan an end-of-the-pandemic party? Experts say July 4 is not looking good (Cleveland.com)
Although the pandemic outlook should be much better by summer, it’s likely that restrictions will still be necessary, according to experts. “July 4th won’t be a celebration of COVID’s defeat; if we’re fortunate, it will be a small reprieve in the ongoing struggle to bring this pandemic to an end,” said research fellow Stephen Kissler.
January 9: We lost to SARS-CoV-2 in 2020. We can defeat B-117 in 2021 (STAT)
In this opinion piece, co-author Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, argued that after a year of fighting SARS-CoV-2, the world is better prepared for a new variant of the virus, called B.1.1.7, or B-117 for short. The authors outlined steps for keeping the new variant under control while vaccination progresses.
January 9: Biden Backs Controversial Vaccine Strategy (Voice of America)
Experts are divided about President-elect Joe Biden’s announced shift in COVID-19 vaccination strategy. His plan is to release all available doses as soon as possible, rather than holding half of them back to ensure that all who get the first shot are guaranteed a second one in three to four weeks. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, called the idea “faith-based decision-making, not evidence- and data-based.” But Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said, “We have a crisis here, and acting on limited information is what you have to do in a crisis.”
January 8: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Public strongly backs Biden’s demand for Covid aid (Politico)
A new poll conducted by Politico and Harvard Chan School finds that a majority of people in the U.S. strongly back an expansive government effort to combat COVID-19 and to shore up the nation’s sluggish economy. “They are overwhelmed with wanting to get Covid under control and wanting to get their economic lives back together,” said Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, emeritus, who designed the poll.
January 8: COVID-19 testing: One size does not fit all (Science)
In this Perspective article, co-author Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, argued against focusing too heavily on the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for the coronavirus. He wrote, “By supporting the innovation, approval, manufacturing, and distribution of simpler and cheaper screening and surveillance tools, it will be possible to more effectively limit the spread of COVID-19 and respond to future pandemics.”
January 8: Biden Plans To Stop Holding Back COVID-19 Vaccines (NPR)
Some experts emphasize the importance of vaccinating as many people as fast as possible against COVID-19, rather than holding some vaccines back to ensure that people get the recommended two doses. Said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, “As the virus continues to spread and as we begin to contemplate the possibility of the new variant or other new variants becoming more of a problem in this country, it’s a race against time. And the faster we get vaccine out, the better.”
The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t support changing the recommended two-dose regimens for the coronavirus vaccines—three weeks apart for the Pfizer vaccine, and four for the Moderna vaccine. But some experts think the timing of the doses matters less than simply getting one shot into people as soon as possible. Said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, “My understanding is that the choice of the three to four weeks in the trials was made because they wanted to do the trials quicker and get an answer quicker, which was a very good reason to pick that interval. But there’s nothing magical about those dates.”
January 8: An Extra-Contagious Coronavirus Variant Is In The US — But No One Knows How Widespread It Is (BuzzFeed News)
Efforts to track a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus in the U.S. have been hampered by the fact that the nation doesn’t have a robust, centralized surveillance system for identifying such variants. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that the country’s lack of genomic surveillance is “a huge failing of our public health system.”
January 7: Commentary: Why you can, and should, trust the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines (San Diego Union Tribune)
People’s confidence in COVID-19 vaccines can be enhanced by increasing public knowledge about how scientific peer review, regulation, and surveillance work together to ensure the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, according to this op-ed co-authored by Victor DeGruttola, research professor of biostatistics.
January 7: Coronavirus Mutations Threaten to Worsen Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)
Two new variants of the coronavirus that are highly transmissible could amplify spread of the pandemic worldwide, complicate control efforts, and delay a return to normalcy, according to Harvard Chan School experts. Those quoted included Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health.
January 7: A Riot Amid a Pandemic: Did the Virus, Too, Storm the Capitol? (New York Times)
Some experts fear that the riot at the Capitol may turn out to have been a so-called super-spreading event for the coronavirus. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, noted that the risk for members of Congress will depend greatly on the ventilation in the room where they sheltered from the mob that invaded the building.
January 7: New COVID ‘Super Strains’ Could Disrupt Life Again (WebMD)
With a more contagious coronavirus variant circulating in the U.S., experts say that more aggressive action is needed to limit the virus’ spread and hasten vaccine distribution. “If we don’t change our control measures, once it [the new variant] becomes common, it will accelerate transmission considerably,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
January 7: A Slow Start To COVID-19 Vaccines Has The FDA Facing Calls To Change Shot Schedules (BuzzFeed News)
Some experts are calling for cutting doses of coronavirus vaccines in half or delaying second shots in order to more quickly vaccinate large numbers of people in the face of a dangerous virus variant spreading in the U.S. But experts at the Food and Drug Administration have opposed these ideas. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the FDA’s position reflects its role as a regulator, ensuring that medicines and supplements are safe and effective. “It’s a really interesting case where science as regulators see it, and science as public health in the broader sense sees it, might be sort of different,” he said.
January 7: Antigen Testing: Guest Post with Michael Mina (Parent Data blog)
In this interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the importance of antigen testing for the coronavirus. “If we are trying to slow the spread of the virus at the community level, we need a test that is frequent, simple and extremely accessible,” he said. “Rapid antigen tests can be the public health screening tool to slow the spread of the virus. … During peak infectiousness, the rapid antigen tests are essentially 100% sensitive.”
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the U.S. should focus efforts on curtailing a rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7, first seen in the U.K. “Anything we can do to delay the spread of this new variant virus will make control easier and will help us in the race to get more people vaccinated before this becomes more common,” he said.
January 6: Some States Put Residents 65 and Older Next in Line for COVID Vaccines (AARP)
In deciding between who to vaccinate first against the coronavirus—older Americans or essential workers —“health policy should as a first pass try to minimize the number of lives lost,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “My best understanding of the data is that the most lives would be saved by getting vaccines to 65 and over.”
January 6: Highly infectious coronavirus variant dampens prospects for summer return to normal (Harvard Gazette)
A more contagious variant of the coronavirus, originally detected in the U.K. and now spreading in the U.S., may mean that it takes longer to get back to normal life by the summer, according to experts. The variant, estimated to spread significantly faster than the original, “just makes this a much harder problem,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It’s certainly not good news.” He said that the spread of the new variant highlights the importance of swiftly rolling out vaccines and adhering to public health control measures such as masking and distancing. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said the emergence of the new variant means that a higher percentage of the nation’s population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
January 5: Widespread Coronavirus Variant Expected to Make Pandemic ‘Much, Much More Deadly’ (Medium Coronavirus Blog)
A new highly transmissible coronavirus variant, initially detected in the U.K. and now spreading in the U.S. and elsewhere, is “probably more widespread than we think,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It’s a big deal for a world that’s already stretched trying to control the old variant.”
January 5: Will the new COVID variant impact school reopening plans in the US? (Fox5 DC)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that even though a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus has begun circulating in the U.S., in-person learning should still be a priority. He stressed that schools should maintain strong mitigation efforts, including mandatory face masks, proper ventilation, hand washing, and as much outdoor time as possible, and that community spread of the virus should be kept to a minimum.
January 5: Frustration builds over slow pace of vaccine rollout (The Hill)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said the fact that only one-third of available coronavirus vaccines have been administered so far is “not so great.” He said that each state should move as quickly as possible through their priority lists of who should get vaccinated first.
January 5: FDA Says There Should Be No Changes to Recommended Vaccination Plan (AARP)
Experts say that any shortcuts to the recommended two-dose plan for administering coronavirus vaccines could be counterproductive to public health. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said, “What is the point of doing careful 500,000 person randomized controlled trials … only to say, ‘Forget about it, we’re going to give one shot and we’ll go find you at some later time. You’ll have enough immunity maybe to get through.’” Bloom said the main problem isn’t the number of shots available but rather their effective dissemination. He added that changing the dosing could result in people losing trust in the vaccines.
January 5: 5 Things Experts Say We Need Most To Handle The Next Pandemic Better (WBUR)
To deal with the next pandemic, experts recommend that we have a fully developed plan, an infrastructure for germ surveillance, adequate testing, more manufacturing capacity for pandemic-related supplies, and that we learn from this pandemic’s mistakes. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
January 5: Viral mutations may cause another ‘very, very bad’ COVID-19 wave, scientists warn (Science)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 5: Harvard disease expert calls more contagious coronavirus variant a ‘really big deal’ (Boston.com)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that there’s “good reason to expect” that a highly contagious coronavirus variant that has spread rapidly in the U.K. will spread elsewhere as well. He said the new variant “emphasizes the need for as rapid as possible vaccination. It also, in my view, means that we should focus our control efforts very much on that variant.”
January 5: Answering your questions about securing your second COVID-19 vaccine dose (WINK News)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if people experience delays in getting their second COVID-19 vaccine. “On biological grounds, there’s no reason to believe that a longer interval would make the second dose worse, it might even make it better” in terms of getting a good immune response, he said.
Logistical issues have slowed the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, say experts. Exhausted hospital workers and public health officials are “being asked to ramp up the most ambitious vaccine program the country has ever seen,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration. He added that although Congress allocated $8 billion for vaccine distribution, it’s not enough and it should have arrived months ago. He criticized the lack of federal leadership and the politicization of public health.
January 4: What vaccines mean for the return of travel (National Geographic)
Dean Michelle Williams quoted
January 4: Massachusetts Debuts Interactive COVID Dashboard, Confirms 375,000th Case (NBC Boston)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that the Massachusetts COVID-19 data dashboard “has a really great wealth of data that lots of other states don’t have.”
January 1: Why The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Has Gotten Off To A Slow Start (NPR)
One of the reasons for the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is that not enough funding has been provided to local health care workers responsible for vaccinating people, according to Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. He said the new COVID relief bill will help “shore up a public health infrastructure that’s been hollowed out for far too long. But the public health systems at the state and local level need much more support going forward if we’re going to return to any sense of normal soon.”
January 1: SWFL hopes to control pandemic by continuing the vaccine rollout (Wink News)
Research fellow Stephen Kissler discussed the need to vaccinate roughly two-thirds of the population for the coronavirus to reach a high level of herd immunity. And with a new, more contagious strain of the virus circulating, he said, “The virus is a little bit more difficult to keep control of. And so it essentially means that more effort is going to be needed to, in essence, flatten this curve.”