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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:
September 21: Where Are the Tests? (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has long advocated for more rapid COVID-19 tests in the U.S., noted that the tests can identify roughly 98% of cases in which a person is infectious. “Testing is how we end this pandemic without disrupting society,” he said.
September 20: The US death toll from Covid-19 just surpassed that of the 1918 flu pandemic (CNN)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, was among experts discussing the huge death toll of the COVID-19 pandemic: 675,000. Lessons that could have been learned from the 1918 pandemic, including not ditching safety precautions too early, not getting a false sense of security among the young and healthy, and not relying on unproven treatments, were unheeded, Kissler said. “A lot of the mistakes that we definitely fell into in 1918, we hoped we wouldn’t fall into in 2020,” he said. “We did.” He noted that the rapid spread of misinformation has been a big disadvantage during the current pandemic.
Bringing in outdoor air, upgrading ventilation systems, and using portable air cleaners with HEPA filters can all make indoor spaces safer during the pandemic, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. He noted that using a CO2 monitor can help shed light on the amount of outdoor air that’s coming into a building.
September 19: To support physicians’ mental health, we need a systemic overhaul (The Hill)
This opinion piece, co-authored by Dean Michelle Williams, Corey Feist of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, and Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health, called for federal, state, and local governments, as well as hospitals, to take action to address mental health issues among physicians that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The article cited the high rate of burnout among physicians and noted that doctors in the U.S. die by suicide at twice the rate of the general population.
September 18: ‘You can’t miss this message.’ Roxbury hosts Boston Vaccine Day in an effort to promote shots against COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
Doctoral student Keona Wynne, lead organizer for Boston Vaccine Day, held September 18 in Roxbury, said the event was designed to highlight the “positivity of vaccination” against COVID-19.
September 17: Newsletter: Coronavirus Today: Rethinking vaccine protection (Los Angeles Times)
Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, and a member of the FDA advisory panel that recently recommended against providing COVID-19 booster shots to adults aged 16-65, commented on the panel’s decision.
September 17: FDA panel recommends Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster for 65 and older, but not for the general public (Market Watch)
Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, and a member of the FDA advisory panel that recently recommended against providing COVID-19 booster shots to adults aged 16-65, was quoted.
September 16: Health Officials Wonder Why Biden’s Mandate Didn’t Also Require Vaccination To Travel (NPR’s All Things Considered)
Experts and policymakers have been debating whether U.S. air and rail travelers should be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Under a new mandate from President Biden, health care workers, federal government employees, and people working at companies with more than 100 employees must be vaccinated—but the mandate didn’t extend to travelers. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, noted that implementing a vaccine mandate for travelers faces hurdles because there’s no system currently in place to verify people’s vaccination status. But he thinks that mandates for travelers may come soon. “I think people are COVID fatigued and they’re looking for bold, courageous leadership that will move us out of the crisis,” he said.
September 16: Harvard Experts Outline Critical Steps for School Reopenings at HGSE Event (Harvard Crimson)
Harvard Chan School experts, including Dean Michelle Williams; Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program; and Natalia Linos, executive director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, spoke at a recent panel on how schools can reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
September 16: Covid gives us a chance to fix indoor air pollution forever (Wired UK)
Experts hope that the trend of ensuring better ventilation indoors to reduce the spread of the coronavirus will continue beyond the pandemic, since poor indoor air quality has detrimental effects on health and productivity. “It feels like the Great Awakening,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “Finally, the world has woken up to the importance of healthy buildings.”
In an interview on Boston Public Radio, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, argued that the U.S. should set better goals as it navigates the pandemic. Regarding schooling, for example, he said that policymakers need to decide whether their aim is to ensure zero transmission of COVID-19 in schools or simply to keep students and educators in classrooms safely.
September 15: COVID-19 vaccine expert not as concerned about full stadiums as people not getting shots (USA Today)
Kizzmekia Corbett, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said that she’s less worried about people being exposed to COVID-19 in crowded stadiums than she is about young people not being vaccinated. “If you have a stadium full of people and many of them are vaccinated, they will be protected, and others will be protected, from serious illness,” said Corbett, one of the creators of the Moderna vaccine. “But … I’m not as concerned about stadiums as I am about things like young people who fail to take vaccination seriously.” She said that COVID-19 is “here to stay” and is likely to become a virus more like the flu. “Would you close a stadium for the flu?” she asked.
September 15: The Changing Virus (Spiegel International)
Experts discussed the possible emergence of coronavirus variants that are more dangerous than Delta. “This virus keeps surprising us,” noted Mary Bushman, postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “No one expected such large jumps in contagiousness.” If a more contagious variant emerges, only very strict containment measures and a rapid vaccination campaign could mitigate its spread, she said. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that new virus variants could be either more or less dangerous than Delta.
September 14: An Epidemiologist Says At-Home Testing Is Key To Stopping COVID (NPR’s All Things Considered )
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has long advocated for the wide availability of rapid COVID-19 tests, said that he is supportive of President Biden’s action plan to increase the accessibility and availability of such tests, but is worried about shortages. He said that the Biden plan will help push companies to sell more rapid tests in the U.S. market, and recommended that the tests be defined as public health tools instead of medical devices to enable their swift authorization by regulatory agencies.
September 14: Biden’s Vaccine Mandate Risks Overwhelming U.S. Testing Capacity (Bloomberg)
Experts expressed concern that the U.S won’t have enough COVID-19 tests to handle the Biden’s administration’s new workplace measures to contain the spread of the virus. Under the new regulation, workers at companies with 100 or more employees will have to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. “We’re going to get logjammed,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “We’re going to have major problems. We’re not going to have the production capacity.”
September 14: What epidemiologists have learned about the coronavirus 18 months into the pandemic (El País)
One of the lessons from the coronavirus pandemic is that public health systems need to be improved, according to experts who gathered at a recent meeting in Spain. Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, noted that, in Spain, one of the shortcomings during the pandemic was the lack of a large public health agency led by respected scientists and independently providing recommendations to politicians.
September 14: Boston Vaccine Day is an inoculation celebration (Boston Globe)
Keona Wynne, a doctoral student and senior project manager of Boston Vaccine Day, said that the September 18 event will include festivities as well as “culturally relevant vaccine education” and free onsite vaccinations.
September 14: Good Morning, Buffalo: Employers try to make workers feel at home upon return to office (The Buffalo News)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, quoted
September 14: Unwilling to Wait for Approval, Some Healthy Americans Seek Booster Shots (New York Times)
Shifting and sometimes confusing guidance on coronavirus-related issues has led some in the U.S. to decide to get COVID-19 booster shots before they’ve been widely approved. “This is a result of poor risk communication and lack of political and scientific transparency over the last 18 months,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a researcher and fellow in public health emergency preparedness and response. “It is also a reflection of people feeling a total lack of control of what is happening in society at this point. One of the things that they can do to protect themselves is to take science into their own hands.”
September 13: The Crime of Vaccine Stockpiling (Harvard Crimson)
In this op-ed, master’s student Domhnall McGlacken-Byrne wrote, “It is grotesquely unethical that rich countries continue to procure supplies to commence large-scale booster campaigns for already-vaccinated, healthy adults, while medically vulnerable people and frontline healthcare workers contract and die from Covid-19 in large numbers in the rest of the world.”
September 13: The ReidOut, 9/13/21 (MSNBC)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, discussed vaccine mandates. “We hit the limit of the voluntary approach,” he said. “We’ve tried the hand-holding, we’ve tried cajoling, we’ve tried the beer and the lotteries. It’s not working. We’ve reached the limit. And to pull this last group across the line, we have to put in these mandates.”
September 12: Covid Q&A: How Vulnerable Are Kids? (Bloomberg)
Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that although children under 12—who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated—are getting infected with COVID-19 during the current Delta wave, they are much less likely than adults to wind up in the hospital or to die. She said it’s crucial to mitigate risk through methods such as distancing and mask wearing.
September 12: Is it ethical to travel right now? Experts on flying in the age of Delta (The Guardian)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, advised minimizing risk to yourself and others if you decide to fly during the Delta surge. Noting that traveling to an area of low vaccination is inherently risky, he said, “While you can’t control the risk to you from the surrounding community, you can control the risk to yourself and the risk to others by ensuring you are vaccinated, wearing masks in appropriate venues, not traveling when symptomatic or if you have a recent exposure, and getting tested frequently with antigen tests.”
September 12: I Got A ‘Mild’ Breakthrough Case. Here’s What I Wish I’d Known (NPR Health Shots)
It’s unclear what’s most responsible for the recent rise in breakthrough COVID-19 infections—the Delta variant, waning immunity in some people, or people dropping public health precautions such as masking. Said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, “We don’t have good evidence of what’s the cause, but we do know all of these things coming together are associated with more breakthroughs.”
Vaccination rates are alarmingly low among teens in many of the Massachusetts cities and towns hardest hit by the coronavirus, according to an analysis by Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences. “If we don’t get this right, how are we going to do it with the 5- to 11-year-olds when they are authorized for a vaccine?” asked Geller.
September 10: The U.S. Needs an Operation Warp Speed for Rapid COVID-19 Testing (TIME Magazine)
The nation needs a comprehensive national rapid testing plan to complement its efforts to boost vaccinations, according to this op-ed by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and Stephen Phillips of the COVID Collaborative. They wrote, “Inexpensive, easy, fast and accurate at-home tests provide actionable results in minutes, not days. They can be used in or out of the home to provide real-time information on whether someone is infectious. If I’m negative, I go to school; I go to the family birthday party; I go to work. If I’m positive, I stay home and isolate. Individuals, families, parents of schoolchildren, employees, diners—virtually everyone—can markedly increase physical safety and mental well-being by having access to rapid tests. It is a pandemic game-changer.”
September 10: Federal Research Bolsters the Case for Vaccine Mandates (New York Times)
New studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that unvaccinated Americans are 11 times as likely as vaccinated people to die of COVID-19, 4.5 times as likely to become infected, and 10 times as likely to be hospitalized. Many experts think that new federal vaccine mandates are needed to get more people inoculated, although William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he was skeptical that mandates would be successful in getting millions more vaccinated. “My question would be whether this actually makes people get vaccinated, or just increases the political heat around it,” he said.
September 10: Will vaccine mandates slow the pandemic? Yes, scientists say — but not immediately. (New York Times)
New federal vaccine mandates should help reduce the surge in COVID-19 cases, but the results of additional immunizations will take weeks to make an impact, say experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the emphasis on vaccination may de-emphasize the importance of masking and testing in controlling the pandemic. “It’s a lot quicker to put on a mask than it is to get a bunch of people vaccinated,” he said.
September 9: Biden Asks OSHA to Order Vaccine Mandates at Large Employers (New York Times)
New federal safety regulations call for businesses with more than 100 workers to require COVID-19 vaccinations. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, called the approach “necessary and needed,” noting that “the voluntary approach has hit its limit.”
September 9: Qantas becomes one of the first airlines to require that international passengers be vaccinated. (New York Times)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said he hoped that other airlines follow the lead of Qantas, which will require that all passengers on international flights be vaccinated against the coronavirus when it restarts worldwide operations in December. “I think this would be a bold and courageous step in the right direction,” he said.
September 9: Does Your Child Have a Cold or COVID-19? (Parents)
The best way to tell whether your child has COVID-19 or a regular cold is to get them tested, according to experts. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, but they’re also less likely to return a “false positive” and they’re very good at identifying infectious people who can transmit COVID-19 to others.
September 9: Least Vaccinated States Lead Spike in Children’s Cases, Leaving Some Hospitals Stretched (New York Times)
Experts say that there are many steps people can take to prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations among children, which are currently on the rise. “What really protects children are the interventions directed at the rest of society,” said Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
September 8: Japan’s Political Hesitancy Created a Sad Summer Olympics (Weatherhead Center for International Affairs Blog)
Michael Reich, Taro Takemi Professor of International Health Policy, Emeritus, co-authored this article exploring the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in Japan, which resulted in a summer Olympics in Tokyo without spectators.
September 8: Covid Zero Is No Longer Working for Australia (New York Times)
Edward Cliff, a hematology doctor in Melbourne and an MPH student at Harvard Chan School, co-authored this opinion piece about Australia’s struggle with rising cases of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant.
September 8: Making sense of Covid data before the next crisis (Politico)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discussed his new role at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the director of science for a new forecasting center that aims to track disease spread and tackle other public health challenges.
September 8: ARE YOU READY FOR SOME … COVID? (Politico)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, quoted
September 7: As experts debate boosters, vaccinated people are calling their own shots (Washington Post)
For some groups of people, such as those who are immunocompromised, COVID-19 booster shots may be a reasonable option, “but for younger people, it’s extraordinarily strange,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “If you have somebody who is 85 percent protected from hospitalization and increase that to 90 percent, that’s not actually a large benefit.”
September 7: Here’s who gets breakthrough COVID cases in Mass. (Boston Globe)
Most breakthrough COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Massachusetts have been among elderly people or those with underlying conditions, according to state data. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, said that policymakers and the general public should prioritize extra care and vigilance for these vulnerable groups.
September 6: Life expectancy depends on where you call home (Boston Globe)
In this op-ed, Dean Michelle Williams discusses the social determinants of health that lead to dramatically different life expectancies in different neighborhoods.
September 5: Epidemiologist Weighs In On The Current State Of The COVID-19 Pandemic (NPR)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, talks about the Delta surge, vaccination levels, and how to protect kids from COVID-19 as they head back to school.
September 4: Rapid Covid tests are more accurate than we think, epidemiologist says (Evening Standard)
In this article, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained that COVID-19 rapid tests are very accurate at detecting infectious people.
September 4: This COVID-19 treatment works, but how to get it? Hospitals are sprinting to keep up with demand (Boston Globe)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, explained that vaccinations and monoclonal antibodies are complementary strategies for battling COVID-19. “Monoclonal antibodies prevent those with high risk or early disease from getting sicker, while vaccination prevents people from getting disease in the first place,” he said.
September 3: Biden’s Controversial COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Plan (FactCheck.org)
Some experts have criticized a Biden administration plan to give COVID-19 booster shots, saying it’s not yet clear that the shots are needed, that much of the world hasn’t even received first shots, and that the messaging around the shots could increase distrust of the vaccines. “For those who think [the vaccine is] either ineffective, experimental, or doesn’t work, the idea that there would already need to be a booster—they they’re kind of changing information around the vaccine—could certainly lead to an increased reticence about it,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow.
September 3: Don’t let delta disrupt learning, expert says (Harvard Gazette)
September 2: “The average hospital stay for a case of COVID-19 costs about $17,064. The vaccine is free.” (Politifact)
A recent claim by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.—that the average hospital stay for a case of COVID-19 costs about $17,064—is in line with several credible estimates, according to this article. But experts noted that exactly how much a person will pay depends on multiple factors, such as what type of health insurance plan they have. Ellen Meara, professor of health economics and policy, noted that people with high-deductible plans and Medicare-insured individuals can face high out-of-pocket costs—often in the thousands of dollars—due to cost sharing.
September 1: In Defense of the At-Home Rapid Test (WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show)
In this radio interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, talked about how schools are preparing to test students, the science on boosters and who gets them, and other COVID-19 news.
September 1: Millions Of People Are Missing From CDC COVID Data As States Fail To Report (NPR’s All Things Considered)
Detailed data on COVID-19 cases across the U.S. is incomplete in many states. “That is ludicrous. It is shameful. It is wrong,” said Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology. “You need good data to do proper planning, to understand what the risk is, how the risk is changing. And you need that to be real data that are publicly available and accessible.”
September 1: How does the delta variant affect children? Could be more severe in kids, Harvard expert says (Boston Herald)
The delta variant could be more contagious and severe in children. “There’s every reason to believe that (the delta variant) is more contagious to children and from children than the older variants, and that means that at a societal level, we’re seeing higher numbers of cases in all age groups, including in children,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. He added that children are still much less likely to get severe coronavirus compared to adults. But as schools reopen and the weather gets colder, cases are expected to increase.
September 1: When Will the Delta Surge End? (New York Times)
Experts have a wide variety of opinions on how the Delta variant surge may play out in the U.S. in the coming months. Some forecasts predict that cases will rise in the early weeks of September, but many foresee the opposite. Epidemiologists say that Delta’s path will be influenced by vaccination rates, social behaviors, the weather, and various levels of precautions. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “The nature of Delta transmission mean that the cases are going to go up in a lot of places at around the same time, but the consequence will be much, much worse in terms of absolute numbers in places with less vaccination.” He added that the reopening of schools and offices would increase cases.
September 1: Genome-Wide Association Methodology Accurately Flags Covid-19 Gamma Variant, HSPH Research Shows (The Crimson)
Researchers found that a longstanding methodology used to associate human genetic variations with disease risk can help flag more deadly or contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2. “Historically, the genome-wide association analyses have looked at whether or not an individual’s genetic makeup can predict disease in that individual,” Nan Laird, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of Public Health, Emerita said. “What we’re doing here is quite different because we’re asking whether or not mutations in the virus can affect the course of the disease in the individual.”
September 1: A sound bite reexamined: ‘Pandemic of the unvaccinated’ (ABC News)
Some experts are concerned about government officials’ use of the phrase “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, said the phrase is “provocative,” adding, “The unvaccinated have an opposition toward Washington, and the more you stir the opposition, the more it convinces them ‘I’m not going to give in to those people.’”
September 1: COVID-19 in children: What to know to about the delta variant’s impact on kids (ABC 7 News)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that with high community transmission of the Delta variant, children will be infected, some with severe cases. He said that disease spread is most likely to occur in homes and at gatherings. Making vaccines available in schools for 12- to 17-year-olds will increase uptake, he said. And to protect very young children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, he advised that everyone coming into contact with them should be masked and vaccinated.
Experts are worried that Hurricane Ida’s impact in Louisiana will worsen COVID-19 spread in low-lying Louisiana parishes, where vaccination rates are low, shelters are crowded, and hospitals are inundated. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, called the situation a “set of cascading consequences.”
So far, experts don’t seem overly concerned about the C.1.2 variant, which was first detected in South Africa in May. Although the variant has various mutations, it doesn’t appear to be “going toe-to-toe with delta,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
Experts say that Delta variant–driven COVID-19 cases and deaths are likely to increase this fall in Massachusetts due to factors such as schools reopening, people gathering indoors in cooler weather, and the number of people still reluctant to get vaccinated. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, said, “The public health forecast for Massachusetts remains so very guarded, despite our state’s nationally leading vaccination rates. Looking to the future, we can’t assume anything. This virus and its variants continue to humble the state, the nation and the world.”
August 30: The Hard Covid-19 Questions We’re Not Asking (New York Times)
In this op-ed co-authored by Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, the authors discuss several questions and concerns based around COVID: Should vaccinated people get boosters? Does everyone need to wear a mask? Are unvaccinated children safe in schools?
August 30: How local dispatches on COVID can help empower us (Boston Globe)
In this op-ed co-authored by Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, the article explains that we are not powerless in this universal race against COVID-19, and as long as we utilize the available tools and are able to successfully prevent cases, we are one step closer to blocking future mutations.
August 29: The Troubled History of Vaccines and Conflict Zones (NPR)
This article explains how conflict areas are known to have conditions that promote viral spread due to crowdedness and lack of sanitation and health services. Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, explained that it will be difficult to monitor new variants’ circulation in these areas: “In places where the health system is damaged or almost destroyed, surveillance is out the window.”
August 27: Study Examines Safety of COVID-19 Vaccine in a Nationwide Mass-Vaccination Setting (News Medical Life Sciences)
A study found that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was not associated with increased risk of a broad range of potential adverse side effects. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, both co-authors of the study, were quoted.
August 27: When COVID Test Results Go Unreported (Bloomberg)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that he worries that clusters of people are testing positive for COVID-19 using home tests without public health officials knowing. “We should be doing a better job of keeping track,” he said. “We should be planning and creating ways that really allow us to capture that information, for no other reason than for monitoring and planning at the public health level.”
August 27: Why Provincetown’s Response to Its Covid Outbreak Was So Effective (New York Times)
In this op-ed co-authored by William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, the authors explain how the public health response to the July outbreak in Provincetown taught a lesson on how to manage the pandemics next phase.
Experts explain that the 6 feet and 15 minute rules are an approximation when it comes to distancing from others. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that other factors should be considered as well, including whether people are unvaccinated, whether people are indoors, poor ventilation, lack of mask use, and duration of exposure.
August 26: COVID, not Pfizer vaccine, more likely to cause serious side effects – study (Jerusalem Post)
Unvaccinated people who contracted COVID-19 were four times as likely to develop myocarditis than people were to get it from the vaccine. Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, was quoted in the article.
August 26: Risk of Heart Damage Higher After COVID-19 Than Vaccination (Cardiovascular Business)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was featured in this article that examines the risk of heart damage after COVID-19 versus after vaccination.
August 25: Humanitarians Push to Vaccinate in Conflict Zones (Undark)
This article by Madeline Drexler, visiting scientist and former editor of Harvard Public Health magazine, explores the many difficulties facing humanitarian efforts to vaccinate people against COVID-19 in regions plagued by war, violence, and instability. Harvard Chan School experts quoted included Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics; Jennifer Leaning, senior research fellow at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights; and Claude Bruderlein, adjunct professor on global health and population.
August 25: Inconclusive review of virus origins prompts calls for more probes: ‘We have to get to the bottom of this’ (Washington Post)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, shared insight on the inconclusive review of the origin of COVID: “This investigation was never going to be able to nail it down, and it’s not remotely surprising that it’s inconclusive. Unfortunately, that means the partisans will be further entrenched in their views.”
August 24: Is Delta Unstoppable? (Harvard Gazette)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication discussed how the changes in behavior and community actions led to a decline in cases in India.
August 24: Many U.S. At-Home COVID-19 Test Results Could Be Going Unreported (TIME)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained that although new, accessible testing technologies have been helpful, data gaps can be dangerous. “We should be doing a better job of keeping track,” he said in an interview. “We should be planning and creating ways that really allow us to capture that information, for no other reason than for monitoring and planning at the public health level.”
August 23: When Medical Care Must be Rationed, Should Vaccination Status Count? (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Daniel Wikler, Mary B. Saltonstall Professor of Population Ethics and Professor of Ethics and Population Health, writes about the ethics behind providing patient care.
August 21: Narrow Opportunity to Use Biometrics for Fair COVID Global Vaccination Programming(Biometric Update)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
August 20: Is It Time to Ditch the Plastic Barriers? (Inc.)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, recommends contacting your building manager to ensure they are updating the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems regularly, as air quality and filtration is vital.
August 20: Evolving threat (Science)
New variants are changing the face of the pandemic and becoming an evolving threat. “It seems plausible that true immune escape is hard,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “However, the counterargument is that natural selection is a hell of a problem solver and the virus is only beginning to experience real pressure to evade immunity.”
August 19: Tying COVID information to worker — and employer — well-being (Harvard Gazette)
Glorian Sorensen, professor of social and behavioral sciences, and former Harvard Chan School professor John Quelch—now dean of the Miami Herbert Business School at the University of Miami—spoke at a recent forum about the social, psychological, and organizational challenges that workers and employers are contending with during the coronavirus pandemic. Said Sorensen, “I think all of us are realizing that there is no way that we are going back to the workplace the way it was before March 2020.”
August 19: Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, 8/19/21 (MSNBC)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, featured
August 18: Vaccines’ protection against virus infection is waning, C.D.C. studies suggest. (New York Times)
New studies released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that coronavirus booster shots will be needed in the months to come because the protection they provide is waning. But some experts disagree that boosters are necessary. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that it’s unclear whether a third dose would help people who didn’t produce enough of an immune response from the first two. He added that the recommendation for boosters might undermine confidence in the vaccine because it could “add to skepticism among people yet to receive one dose that the vaccines help them.”
August 17: In a Handful of States, Early Data Hint at a Rise in Breakthrough Infections (New York Times)
Preliminary data suggests that breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people are becoming increasingly common. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said, “When boosters become available, barring arguments about ethics about global supply of vaccines, you should go and get a vaccine.”
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was among nearly 30 experts who discussed what they’d feel safe doing during the COVID surge—and what wouldn’t feel safe. Hanage said he’d prefer to skip going to the movies and would wear a mask if he did go. He also said he and his family canceled a summer trip to Iceland and vacationed on Cape Cod instead, to avoid potentially getting stuck outside the country if travel restrictions were instituted.
August 16: What It’s Like to Have a Breakthrough Covid Case (Teen Vogue)
Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, noted that the highly contagious Delta variant and the fact that a large percentage of people remain unvaccinated has changed the course of the pandemic. “As the Delta variant has come along, we’ve had to relearn a whole lot of new things to understand how well the vaccines do and don’t work as the virus evolves,” he said. “The more people who are not vaccinated, the more chance the virus has to evolve and to put itself against vaccinated people’s immune systems and outsmart that.” He added, however, “These vaccines are so extraordinarily good at keeping people out of the hospital from [from] dying. That’s what they’re intended to do—to save people’s lives.”
August 16: England’s Rush to Reopen Is a Cautionary Tale for the U.S. (Scientific American)
After England relaxed most of its COVID-19 restrictions, infections surged. Some experts think that England’s reopening could cause many unnecessary deaths, lead to more so-called long COVID cases in thousands of people, and encourage the emergence of another highly contagious variant. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that as gatherings increase, there will be “more opportunities for superspreading, although some mobility data suggest folks are being cautious.”
Because of the pandemic, employers are increasingly focusing on airborne hazards in the workplace. Experts say one silver lining to the pandemic could be much-needed improvements to offices’ poor air quality. “I think this is the moment [that people will pay attention to indoor air quality] because everyone’s awareness is so high,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.
August 15: COVID Cases Are Spiking Again in Mass. Cities (WGBH)
Cities including Boston, Fall River, New Bedford, and Worcester are seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, who has been compiling city case numbers for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said, “I’m discouraged. So much progress was being made.” He said that the majority of new infections are likely coming from unvaccinated people.
August 13: Doctor on COVID: ‘We have to react to the public health information’ (Yahoo! Finance)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, commented on early reports that the Moderna vaccine is more effective than the Pfizer vaccine in preventing breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in vaccinated people. In spite of those reports, he noted, “All the vaccines are highly effective in preventing the serious consequences of COVID-19 infection.” He advised against the general public seeking a booster shot until it’s recommended by federal agencies, and emphasized the importance of relying on interventions such as good ventilation in buildings, wearing masks indoors, and avoiding high-risk situations for COVID-19 transmission.
August 13: The State of the Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)
Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and an expert in the transmission dynamics of emerging infectious diseases, reflected on the epidemiology of COVID-19. “It’s a little disappointing that…after a year and a half, we still don’t have a good estimate of how infectious the virus is, but we know enough,” she said.
August 12: The psychological case for delaying office reopenings (Quartz)
Some experts think that businesses should further delay office reopenings given the surge of the Delta variant, both to protect public health and to improve employees’ psychological well-being. “A lot of people have somebody at home that they might worry about exposing,” said Jeffrey Levin-Scherz, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management—such as kids under age 12 who aren’t get eligible for vaccination or loved ones who are immunocompromised.
With the FDA poised to approve COVID-19 booster shots for certain high-risk people, Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said that he thinks we shouldn’t be giving out third shots while much of the world hasn’t even gotten a first one. “Ethically, we need to get this out to protect people—No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, this is going to protect everybody because we’re all in this together.”
August 11: What to Know About Breakthrough Infections and the Delta Variant (New York Times)
New evidence suggests that vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can carry as much coronavirus as unvaccinated people—and therefore they’re able to spread COVID-19 to others. But vaccinated people are unlikely to get severely ill or die from the disease. Getting infected may even provide a benefit. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that both booster shots and mild natural infections can increase immunity initially gained from vaccines.
August 11: Delta is raging. Is it really safe to send kids back to the classroom? (Fast Company)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that while parents are right to worry about the Delta variant, simple mitigation efforts can make classrooms safe for their children. He recommended that all children and staff wear masks, that everyone who sets foot in a school who can be vaccinated should be, and that ventilation and filtration in school buildings be improved.
August 10: COVID Vaccine Hesitancy: 90 Million Still On the Fence (WebMD)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, discussed which groups or people are more likely to be vaccinated, and which are less likely.
August 10: Increased Crowding Linked to COVID-19 Incidence in Prisons (HealthDay)
A study by Abigail Leibowitz, MPH ’21, and colleagues found that, in 14 prisons in Massachusetts, increased crowding was linked with increased rates of COVID-19. The study also found that the higher the COVID-19 transmission in the surrounding county, the higher the COVID-19 incidence in prisons.
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative, said he applauds the Federal Aviation Administration’s fines of unruly airline passengers who refuse to wear masks. “Unfortunately, I think we’re going to have to continue the [federal transit] mask mandate until we’re able to significantly increase the number of people that are vaccinated and get a hold on the pandemic,” he said.
In this Q&A, Jacqueline Bhabha, director of research at the Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, discussed the Biden administration’s continuation of a Trump-era policy that effectively closes the southern U.S. border to migrants. “What is not appropriate is to have a blanket ban that really discriminates against a particularly vulnerable population,” she said, adding that there’s a suspicion that the decision is politically driven rather than health-driven.
August 9: How to talk to your vaccine-hesitant friends and family (Popular Science)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that conversations with friends and family “can be incredibly influential in health decision making and in vaccine decision making.” She emphasized that shared humanity should be the basis of these conversations.
August 9: How will the pandemic end? The science of past outbreaks offers clues. (National Geographic)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, said that until the coronavirus “is controlled or more limited globally, it’s not going away.” She added, “There is no one definition of what the end of a pandemic means.”
Even though Provincetown was recently the epicenter of a COVID-19 cluster, the community’s high vaccination rate and efficient test-and-trace response hold important lessons for other communities, according to experts. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that cases were low when the outbreak occurred, and that positive rates in Provincetown are now dropping quickly. “This is a lesson for other towns,” he said. “If we keep baseline spread controlled, we’ll have a much easier time dealing with flare-ups when they occur. When flare-ups do occur, testing, tracing, and masking can help push cases back down, as long as vaccination rates are high enough.” Added William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, “Provincetown shows that it’s possible to take a pretty big outbreak and bring it under control relatively quickly. And that should give us all a good deal of hope.”
August 6: Data shows how rare severe breakthrough Covid infections are (NBC News)
If you’re vaccinated, the odds of getting severely ill or dying from COVID-19 are extremely low, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The most important outcomes [of getting vaccinated] are not preventing all infections, but preventing serious infections and deaths,” said Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and the director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation, and Practice (EPREP) Program at Harvard Chan School.
August 6: Vaccine demand jumps in states pummeled by Delta variant (Politico)
Demand for COVID-19 vaccines is surging in states hardest hit by the Delta variant. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, said that hearing local accounts of the disease’s dangers may be convincing people to decide to get inoculated. “It’s seeing local bodies being driven from the hospital to the mortuary,” he said. “It’s suddenly hearing a local physician on the radio talking about people dying.”
The digital health sector’s biggest annual gathering—the conference of the Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS)—was scheduled to begin on August 9 as COVID-19 cases were surging across the U.S. The run-up to the conference was marked by cancellations, strengthened mitigation measures, and second-guessing of plans. The situation is similar to the uncertainty that pervaded the beginning of the pandemic, when infections also surged. “We’re again in this situation, and it’s really disturbing,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Because the fact is there are a lot of people who are really sort of poised on the cusp of normal life, and yet the sort of superspreading opportunities that Delta is going to take advantage of is what is standing between us and that normal life.”
August 5: Health leaders: We’re asking American businesses to create #COVIDSafeZones. Here’s how. (USA Today)
This opinion piece urged American businesses to maximize vaccinations and to take other steps to ensure a safe workplace. Dean Michelle Williams was among public health experts, scientists, and former elected officials who signed an open letter urging America’s private sector leaders to implement #COVIDSafeZones.
August 5: This scientist says cleaning indoor air could make us healthier—and smarter (Science)
This profile of Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, describes his research on how indoor air quality affects human health and cognition, his work advising companies on ventilation and air filtration, and his efforts during the pandemic to clarify how COVID-19 spreads in indoor spaces and the best ways to prevent it from doing so.
August 5: COVID prevention tips as Delta variant surges (Harvard Gazette)
During an August 3 Q&A, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, spoke about the importance of getting vaccinated, masking up, and socializing responsibly to help reduce transmission of the coronavirus.
With vaccination rates stalled in the U.S. and the Delta variant spreading, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said it’s time to mandate vaccines. Noting that large companies such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Disney have decided to mandate vaccines for their employees and customers, he said, “Businesses are leading the way. The dominoes are falling on vaccine mandates.”
August 5: Moderna says its vaccine’s protection holds through six months. (New York Times)
Although Moderna executives have said they think booster shots of their COVID-19 vaccine will be necessary in the fall, scientists have not reached consensus on the issue. Rebecca Kahn, postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that although it’s important to continue to evaluating the effectiveness of existing vaccines against new variants, “the priority needs to be increasing global access to first and second doses.”
August 5: The trouble with transparency: How pandemic is challenging the CDC (Christian Science Monitor)
The unpredictable course of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it extremely difficult for health communicators to come across as credible, transparent, and trustworthy, according to experts. “The pathogen has surprised us at every turn,” said Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication. He noted that it’s been a challenge to process the deluge of pandemic-related information, especially amid misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories, and politicization.
August 5: These charts show COVID-19’s resurgence in Mass., and what might come next (Boston Globe)
Experts hope that Massachusetts’ high vaccination rate will mean the state won’t be hit too hard by COVID-19 during the current surge driven by the Delta variant. But they urge caution. “The Delta variant has dramatically upended recent progress against the pandemic and is forcing a reset everywhere,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner. “Despite nationally leading vaccination rates in Massachusetts, we have to drive them up even further. We must stay humble and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.”
August 5: More businesses are mandating COVID-19 vaccines. Is that legal? (ABC News)
Businesses are on solid legal ground in mandating COVID-19 vaccines, according to public health experts. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, said that the rise in COVID-19 cases will push more organizations to institute mandates. “Businesses want to go forward and they know that their status quo isn’t working,” he said. Koh added that legal precedent allows states to mandate vaccines, although “no federal vaccination mandate has ever been tested in court.”
August 5: Experts deny claims that taking painkillers after Covid-19 vaccine causes death (AFP Fact Check)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
August 4: You’re vaccinated. You got COVID. How sick will you feel? (San Jose Mercury News)
In vaccinated people, breakthrough cases of COVID-19 driven by the Delta variant may involve sore throat, headache, and fever, but they are generally mild, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, explained that Delta isn’t dodging vaccines, but that people’s immune systems are a little slow in responding to it. “The immune system takes a little while to get its boots on,” he said. Because the virus can multiply so quickly, “it manages to copy itself before the immune system wakes up and stamps on it.”
August 3: Can the Unvaccinated Be Persuaded? (New York Times)
Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, and Ashish Jha, adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan school, former director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, and current dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, were quoted in this opinion piece.
August 3: MWRA waste water coronavirus data sends mixed signals (Boston Globe)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that waste water coronavirus testing has been a useful indicator of COVID-19 spread. He noted, however, that even if the amount of coronavirus found in waste water goes up—and if cases go up—those increases won’t necessarily translate to high numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, since the vaccines protect people who contract the virus from getting severely ill.
August 3: Should I Mask? Can I Travel? What About Hugs? How Delta Is Changing Advice for the Vaccinated (New York Times)
The Delta variant has spurred breakthrough infections of COVID-19 in vaccinated people, although such cases remain rare. Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs, suggested an “outdoor first” strategy to avoid infection, particularly for families with unvaccinated children or family members at high risk.
August 3: How the Delta Variant Is Changing the Public-Health Playbook (New Yorker)
In a Q&A, Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member and director of the Better Evidence program at Ariadne Labs, discussed the best ways to talk to people who lack confidence in the COVID-19 vaccine, the need for various forms of vaccine mandates, and why the spread of the Delta variant has forced public health officials to adopt new messaging.
August 2: Opinion: It’s time to admit it: The vaccination campaign has hit its limit. Mandates are the only way forward. (Washington Post)
In an op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, wrote that persuading Americans to voluntarily accept coronavirus vaccinations has hit a wall, and that mandates—among union members, in health care settings, and in businesses—are now necessary.
August 2: Lack of Progress in Treating Covid Causes Worry for Unvaccinated (Bloomberg)
Experts are concerned about a stall in treatment advances for COVID-19. “That anybody is still dying of this —because it’s a vaccine-preventable death at this point — is now unbelievably frustrating,” said Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “But if you take an unvaccinated person and give them COVID, right now, our tools are limited.”
August 2: Will this be Spain’s fifth and final coronavirus wave? (El Pais)
Future upticks in COVID-19 will be less severe unless there are further mutations, according to some experts. Miguel Hernán, Kolokotrones Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said he thinks the virus will slowly become endemic like other coronaviruses. “When the large majority of the population is vaccinated, there will be more cases, but perhaps we won’t even know it, just like we don’t know if there are a lot of colds in a season, because we don’t carry out systemic epidemiological vigilance, as it is not necessary,” he said. “The coronavirus that today causes a cold likely caused a pandemic in its day.”
Many experts think that the current COVID-19 surge will get worse before it gets better. But they also note that new cases won’t lead to as many hospitalizations and deaths, because vaccination is now protecting many Americans. Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, pointed to the example of the United Kingdom, which saw a huge spike driven by the Delta variant but has 57% of its population vaccinated. “In terms of the number of cases, this new surge in the U.K. was pretty similar in size to the one they saw in the winter, but it hasn’t translated into deaths at nearly the same rate,” he said.
August 1: FDA Under Pressure to Grant Full Approval to Covid-19 Vaccines (Wall Street Journal)
Schools, hospitals, and employers are increasingly mandating COVID-19 vaccines, but many are holding off because the vaccines are still only authorized for emergency use. Because there are different perceptions about the risks of vaccines across the country, “If you’re a company operating in all 50 states and even internationally, it’s hard for them to move on the vaccine mandate and having a full FDA approval and authorization would make that easier,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.