For the Harvard Chan community: Find the latest updates, guidance, useful information, and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) here.
In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories in which they offer comments and context:
May 12: They Haven’t Gotten a Covid Vaccine Yet. But They Aren’t ‘Hesitant’ Either. (New York Times)
According to a new U.S. census estimate, a sizeable proportion of the U.S. population—roughly 30 million adults—are open to getting a COVID-19 vaccine but have not done so yet, for a variety of reasons, such as having jobs or family obligations that give them only limited discretionary time. Many are low-income or don’t have a college degree; some have health issues, disabilities, or face language barriers; and others don’t have a regular doctor or are socially isolated, according to an analysis of the census data by Justin Feldman, research associate at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights. “It helps break this question down of attitude versus access,” said Feldman. “With people who have not been vaccinated, some are disinclined, but others are facing structural barriers.”
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, discussed measures in place in airplanes and at airports to protect passengers from COVID-19, such as required masking, deep cleaning, and increased use of air filtration systems. “People can fly with a high degree of confidence, knowing that there are multiple layers in place to provide that protection from COVID-19 when they’re flying,” he said.
National Institutes of Health immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped lead the NIH’s development of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna, discussed her upcoming role at Harvard Chan School, where she will head a lab focused on next-generation vaccines for coronaviruses.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate who spent a year helping out in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic and taking courses at Harvard Chan School, said he is returning to his previous role—as a football player for the Kansas City Chiefs.
May 10: Debate over school mask mandates intensifies across the country (FOX News)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said he thinks that people should continue wearing masks indoors for a bit longer—until more U.S. adults get vaccinated for COVID-19—but that indoor masking mandates should end by early July.
Even with more people receiving COVID-19 vaccines every day and case numbers falling, some fully vaccinated Americans are hesitant to let their guard down, say experts. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, noted that humans are hardwired to avoid things that threaten them. “The challenge is because it’s so easy to learn, it’s hard to unlearn,” she said. “Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.” She recommended that people try situations that make them anxious in small and gradual steps. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was also quoted.
May 7: At This Hour With Kate Bolduan – Joseph Allen Clip (CNN)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, offered advice on when and where to continue wear masks to protect against COVID-19—and noted that the risk continues to decline.
Evan Benjamin, chief medical officer at Ariadne Labs and an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed a toolkit his team created to help increase public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. The toolkit includes best practices for medical providers looking to start conversations about the vaccines with hesitant patients.
COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for kids over age 16, and may soon be approved for kids as young as age 12. Allan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, noted that rates of pediatric vaccinations in Massachusetts are already beginning to show some of the same demographic disparities seen in adult vaccination. Lower-income communities such as Brockton, Chelsea, Lynn, and Revere—which have had some of the highest infection rates in the state—have been among the slowest in getting teens vaccinated, he said.
May 7: ‘Crying Out for Help’: Harvard Affiliates on Pandemic Front Line Describe Mental Health Toll (Harvard Crimson)
Medical professionals at Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals said they have faced increased stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and burnout during the pandemic. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and the director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation, and Practice (EPREP) Program at Harvard Chan School, said, “The psychological wounds of the pandemic will likely linger for a while. I think the people should be aware of what the wounds and needs are of medical providers going forward, as they will need time to process and heal themselves.”
A study that measured excess mortality estimated that the number of people who died from COVID-19 is far higher than official estimates, both in the U.S. and worldwide, although some experts expressed skepticism about the findings. “I think that the overall message of this (that deaths have been substantially undercounted and in some places more than others) is likely sound, but the absolute numbers are less so for a lot of reasons,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
May 6: We need to insure equitable vaccine access: Dr. Tom Tsai (Yahoo! Finance)
May 6: Can Incentives Sway the Vaccine-Hesitant? (Bloomberg)
Ankur Pandya, associate professor of health decision science, discussed the possibility that incentives, such as free beer or cash, could nudge people who are vaccine-hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He noted that more rigorous testing is needed to see what incentive campaigns might work.
May 6: To Mask Or Not To Mask? (WBUR’s “Radio Boston”)
May 6: What If The US Doesn’t Reach Herd Immunity?(WGBH)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that herd immunity works on a continuum. He said that even if full herd immunity isn’t reached, the U.S. will hopefully be able to protect the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and be able to handle any additional cases that might occur. He also called for incentivizing and educating people as much as possible to convince them to get vaccinated.
May 6: How Indian doctors abroad are helping their country fight Covid (Quartz)
Ramya Pinnamaneni, research fellow, quoted
May 6: India’s COVID-19 emergency a global reminder as cases decline in US (ABC News “The Breakdown”)
Dean Michelle Williams discussed the importance of getting more people vaccinated for COVID-19 in India, in the U.S., and around the world. She stressed the need “to collectively work together to break the spread of this pandemic,” noting that “the threat anywhere in the globe is a threat to all of us.”
May 6: Covid-19 vaccine may have significantly cut deaths among elderly despite spread of new strain, Brazil research shows (South China Morning Post)
A rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations among elderly Brazilians may have significantly reduced deaths even though a new contagious and deadly variant of the virus was spreading, according to a preprint study co-authored by Cesar Victora, visiting scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, and research assistant Susie Gurzenda.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, was among experts commenting on what kinds of things are OK to ask people about regarding COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, he said it’s OK to ask if people are vaccinated before a gathering, because it contributes to the greater good and health of all. “I would opt for honesty and openness, politely, rather than worry about [offending people] and unwittingly be part of this transmission,” he said.
If there’s enough vaccine uptake and people continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and distancing, it’s possible that levels of coronavirus infections could drop to low levels by July, according to a new paper from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said the report confirms what was already known—“more vaccines good, less vaccines bad”—and that other public health measures remain crucial to minimizing viral spread.
May 5: Can I Take Painkillers Before or After a COVID Vaccine? (The Independent)
Experts recommend avoiding taking pain relief medication before or after getting a COVID-19 vaccine in order to give your immune system the best change of learning how to fight the coronavirus. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that allowing your body to deal with the virus without painkillers helps it build “immunological memory.”
Experts advise against sending medical goods to India to help fight COVID-19. They instead recommend donating to established organizations in the country. Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, suggested giving to organizations that work with the millions of low-income and migrant workers in India that have lost their livelihoods in the pandemic, or to organizations that support people’s mental health.
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, discussed some of the reasons why Brazil’s death toll from COVID-19 is so high. Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro, like former U.S. President Donald Trump, denied the importance of the coronavirus and ignored science, she said. They would both hang out with people, shake hands, and not use masks, and both were against lockdowns. “It was a sequence of mistakes that accumulated and we end up with what we’re seeing now, many more deaths than we should see and hospitals … collapsed,” she said.
May 5: Americans will have increasingly have to make their own judgments about covid-19 risks (Washington Post)
Mask rules and other top-down restrictions are less necessary now that vaccines are winning the race against variants in the U.S., so people will need to increasingly assess COVID-19 risks on an individual basis, wrote Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, in this op-ed. He offered guidance on what activities are safe for those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t, and for kids.
May 5: The Dream: International Travel. The Reality: Chaos and Confusion. (New York Times)
The return of international leisure travel will be complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, say experts. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that reopening areas to vaccinated tourists is a calculated risk. “My doomsday scenario is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission,” she said.
May 4: The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing. Here’s How to Get There. (New York Times)
Experts offered tips on how to boost overall well-being in the wake of the pandemic, such as savoring and celebrating small things, doing good deeds, and looking for communities and connection. “Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” noted Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program. The article also featured a quiz developed by VanderWeele to assess a person’s overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
May 4: Do You Really Need Both Vaccine Doses? (Daily Caller)
With two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, the first shot provides baseline protection, but experts say the second shot is critical to strengthen and extend immunity. “The 2nd [dose] is the one that provides lasting protection,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “The second [shot] sets up the immune system to produce an army of trained cells ready to respond to the virus in the future.”
May 4: New home covid-19 tests give quick results could fuel frequent testing help limit virus spread (CBS This Morning)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained why rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are important during the pandemic, even among people who have already been vaccinated. “If I have been vaccinated already and I’m going to go into a nursing home or anywhere where people might still be vulnerable, it is best for me to take a test as long as it’s very accessible,” Mina said. “Testing in a pandemic is our eyes. If we don’t have testing, we don’t have eyes on the virus. We don’t know where it is.”
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that rapid at-home COVID-19 tests—finally available over the counter in the U.S.—are still too expensive at between $20 and $40, depending on the brand. “Currently, with the price tag, it is still a barrier for the poorest of Americans, or even just the non-wealthy,” said Mina. “Very few people will want to spend that kind of money on a regular basis. So it still is creating a barrier, where the wealthy and well-off are able to get tested and know if their kid is sick with COVID, and the poor are not. And that continues to be a major travesty.”
May 4: How should we try to persuade family and friends to get the coronavirus vaccine? (Cleveland.com)
Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist, said that the people who are most effective at convincing others to get vaccinated for COVID-19 have technical knowledge about vaccines—for example, doctors or other health care workers—and have a strong relationship with the person they’re trying to persuade.
May 3: Why Mental Health Matters for a Healthy Pregnancy: COVID-19 Survey (VeryWell Health)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, commented on a study she co-authored that found high levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress among pregnant and postpartum women during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know that maternal mental health, stress, and trauma affect fetal development,” said Koenen. She recommended that mental health be addressed in primary care appointments.
May 3: Kids Can’t Get The COVID-19 Vaccine Yet. How Much Of A Risk Do They Pose To The Rest Of Society? (FiveThirtyEight)
Even though experts some experts are now doubtful that the U.S. will reach full herd immunity to COVID-19, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that few infectious diseases ever become globally extinct. “We’ve only ever really eradicated smallpox and if it weren’t for a couple of further interventions beyond vaccines, even that could still be with us,” he said. “Most people who know anything about infectious disease don’t think total eradication is possible.” But the more people are vaccinated, the better the situation will be, he added. “We can likely get enough immunity in the population where the virus is not a major threat everywhere,” he said.
Experts are expressing concern that the U.S. won’t learn from the mistakes it made during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, while America is currently relying on its very effective vaccines to bring it out of the current pandemic, vaccines alone won’t be enough to fight future pandemics, they say. “We still need tests and treatments while the vaccine is being evaluated and manufactured, and in case the vaccines don’t work,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “I am not sure the U.S. has learned much at all—or what it even can learn given the federal nature of the country and the balkanized state of the health care system.”
May 3: COVID-19 a Seasonal Disease, Says Research; Infections Likely to Rise During Winters (Weather.com)
May 3: Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe (New York Times)
There is widespread consensus among experts that herd immunity to COVID-19 is not attainable in the foreseeable future, or perhaps ever. With highly contagious variants circulating, the herd immunity threshold—previously thought to be about 60% or 70% of the population—is now thought to be at least 80%, and may go even higher if other contagious variants develop or if it’s found that immunized people can still transmit the virus. “It is theoretically possible that we could get to about 90 percent vaccination coverage, but not super likely, I would say,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
May 3: As Covid-19 Testing Moves Center Stage, U.S. and U.K. Approaches Differ (Wall Street Journal)
As vaccination campaigns help tamp down COVID-19, faster and smarter testing will be needed to help keep the disease under control, say experts. Testing can help stave off new infections and help find variants, they say. “We’re entering into a new phase of this pandemic, and the role of testing and sequencing and all different modes of keeping an eye on the virus is certainly changing, in terms of what its role is in keeping the community safe and keeping a handle on this pandemic,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
May 1: Many Americans Anxious About Returning to ‘Normal’ After Pandemic (Voice of America)
Many people are looking forward to a return to normalcy as the pandemic is easing. But a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that roughly half of adults are uneasy about the transition back to in-person interactions. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that some people will “feel a loss because things are different.”
S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography, quoted
Experts say that the CDC’s new guidelines easing outdoor masking recommendations for fully vaccinated people could imply that vaccination is now just a matter of choice, and could undermine urgency to reach vulnerable communities who don’t yet have access to vaccines. “It’s fantastic that we recognize that there are safer and less risky activities, but everybody should have the opportunity to be able to participate in those less risky activities,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow. “And that opportunity is not equal if you do not have equal access to the vaccine.”
Although many experts think that the U.S. vaccination campaign may finally be winning the race against the coronavirus, others express caution. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, commented on a recent sharp drop-off in vaccinations. “We’re starting to try to vaccinate those who have been a little more hesitant or harder to reach or have been having trouble accessing vaccines,” he said. “It is really, really important that we do reach those people.”
April 30: Claim about COVID-19 vaccine misinterprets the meaning of herd immunity (PolitiFact)
Politifact labeled as false a recent Instagram post that claimed that herd immunity to COVID-19 means that no one can get the disease, and that herd immunity can’t be achieved because it would require 100% of the population to be vaccinated. “Herd immunity is not ‘everybody is vaccinated therefore the disease goes away,’” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Herd immunity is, in fact, that enough people are vaccinated that the transmission chains are disrupted and people who are vaccinated, or not, are less likely to be exposed.”
April 30: Cruise Lines Are Getting Antsy To Set Sail (WBUR)
Big cruise ships that comply with new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be able resume operations by mid-July, but cruise ship operators are frustrated that they haven’t yet been given the green light sooner. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, said that the “CDC, in my view, was right to move cautiously. … It’s hard to image the CDC prioritizing cruise ships right now when we still have some schools that are closed.”
April 30: State data show ‘breakthrough’ COVID-19 cases extremely rare (Boston Globe)
Less than 0.1% of fully vaccinated people in Massachusetts—1,798 out of 2.4 million—have developed so-called “breakthrough cases” of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Public Health. “This is very good news,” said Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration that approved the three vaccines for emergency use in the U.S. “The vaccines aren’t perfect but they’re awfully good, and these data suggest that they’re working as well in the real world as they did under the ideal conditions of the original trials.” He noted that those who are getting COVID-19 are getting much less seriously ill.
April 28: India’s crushing COVID caseload the result of a ‘perfect storm’ of factors, experts say (USA Today)
A combination of political, biological, behavioral, and meteorological factors led to India’s current COVID-19 surge, according to experts. “It’s almost like India hit a perfect storm,” said S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography.
With more and more adults getting vaccinated, and with COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths decreasing, it makes sense to relax outdoor mask requirements, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science. He said that there’s “less than one percent trivial risk of any outdoor interaction, even maskless, as long as you have some distance between people.” He recommended continuing to wear a mask in crowds at events like parades or ballgames.
April 28: Why the COVID-19 outbreak in Brazil has become a humanitarian crisis (Harvard Gazette)
In a Q&A, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, said that major factors contributing to a humanitarian catastrophe in Brazil are a failure of leadership and the denial of science surrounding COVID-19. Other factors include income inequality, unequal access to health services and ICU beds, and comorbidities that disproportionately affect certain groups. “This crisis could have been avoided,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we were going to have zero deaths, but certainly we wouldn’t have the death toll we’re having now.”
April 28: Shadow of Long Covid: Why India needs to prepare for long-term effects of coronavirus (India Today)
Experts said that India and other countries with high COVID-19 caseloads need to prepare for patients with long-term effects of the illness. “Because Long COVID impacts so many different organ systems, it’s not going to be the purview of infectious disease doctors, it’s not going to be just the lung doctors, it’s going to require people with different specialization and different backgrounds of expertise,” said Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
April 27: ‘Very strong degree of normality’ likely by year’s end (Harvard Gazette)
Experts including Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and President Biden’s top pandemic adviser, discussed progress made so far during the pandemic as well as challenges to come, at a Harvard Chan School town hall event. Harvard Chan participants included Dean Michelle Williams; Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology; and Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.
April 27: CDC Eases Face Mask Guidelines for Fully Vaccinated People Outdoors (Wall Street Journal)
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that people who’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 can safely walk, exercise, dine, or attend small gatherings outdoors without masks. Experts agreed that vaccination appears to be highly protective against COVID-19, and that the risk of infection outdoors is very low when people are not in crowded places. “We have unlimited dilution and unlimited ventilation” outdoors, said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science. “We know that the biggest single risk factor for this virus is time indoors.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker eased some COVID-19 restrictions and mapped out plans for further easing them in the months ahead—as long as the state avoids another surge in cases and keeps up its robust vaccination rate. Some public health experts expressed concern that the state may be reopening too quickly. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said that the state should wait until enough people are vaccinated to reach herd immunity before allowing indoor gatherings of 200 people, which would be allowed in one month according to the governor’s timeline.
April 27: Could regular testing of workers slow the spread of COVID-19 (TODAY Show)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, talked about how frequent rapid testing for COVID-19 can both reduce the spread of disease and, as workers return to workplaces, reassure employees that their coworkers are not infectious. Rapid tests can also be helpful in schools, he said. “Even in the midst of recurring cases and some variants, we might be able to see those schools be able to remain open, see the workplaces open, even if spread is ongoing in the community,” he said.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration has undermined science during the COVID-19 crisis, such as by ignoring pandemic-containment strategies including wearing masks or closing non-essential businesses, according to experts. The article quoted Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, who co-authored a recent study that found that regions in Brazil that implemented stricter measures had fewer deaths per capita than comparable regions.
April 27: Biden’s coronavirus success threatened by political divisions he pledged to heal (Los Angeles Times)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
April 26: 5 ways to make sure the post-pandemic recovery focuses on women (Fortune)
Women have overwhelmingly borne the economic and social costs of the pandemic, according to this op-ed co-authored by Dean Michelle Williams and Arianna Huffington. The authors listed steps to improve the situation, including expanding access to paid family and medical leave, making childcare more affordable, paying women equally, improving work/life integration, and valuing caregivers by giving them a living wage and workplace protections.
April 26: Pool Testing in Massachusetts Schools Has Not Fit All Districts (WGBH)
Experts discussed pool testing in Massachusetts schools, in which students’ COVID-19 tests are processed in batches, which costs less than individual testing. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said such testing can head off outbreaks. “The cost if we don’t do it is that an outbreak can very quickly get out of hand inside a school,” he noted.
April 24: Fact check: How safe is flying during the COVID pandemic? (Deutsche Welle)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, commented on how to stay safe from COVID-19 during air travel. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, he recommended wearing face masks throughout the trip, noting that two masks can help ensure a proper seal around the nose and mouth. He advised against eating or drinking if possible, but said if you need to, try to do so only when the person next to you has their mask on. He also encouraged passengers to keep their personal overhead vents on during the flight, and to make sure to wash their hands after using the airport lavatory.
April 23: Another boon from vaccinating millions of Americans: Jobs (CBS News)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow, quoted
April 23: The TSA’s mask mandate expires soon. Airline industry leaders and politicians are calling for an extension. (Washington Post)
April 23: Michigan’s Outbreak Worries Scientists. Will Conservative Outposts Keep Pandemic Rolling? (Kaiser Health News)
Experts are worried that COVID-19 denialism and vaccine hesitancy in conservative parts of the U.S. could lead to new disease surges. In such areas, “you’re less likely to get vaccinated and more likely to do things that spread the virus,” said Abdul El-Sayed, a visiting scholar at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.
April 23: In the fight against COVID, Brazil’s surge won’t stay in Brazil (Fortune)
A highly transmissible COVID-19 variant is surging in Brazil and is pushing the health system to the breaking point, amid a slow vaccine rollout. Marcia de Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, said she believes that lockdowns should be imposed in hard-hit areas of the nation as soon as possible.
Experts say it appears that vaccines are helping decrease COVID-19 cases in Michigan and other states that experienced springtime surges. Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said he’s hopeful that the U.S. has dodged the full brunt of B.1.1.7, a highly transmissible variant.
New at-home rapid COVID-19 tests are now being sold over-the-counter at pharmacies. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said of the tests, “They are very reliable, if the question that you’re asking and the reason that you’re taking the test is, am I infectious right now and a risk of transmitting the virus to other people?”
April 22: With COVID spread, ‘racism — not race — is the risk factor’ (Harvard Gazette)
Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed longstanding environmental inequities in society. He noted that communities of color typically breathe more polluted air than others in the U.S., because they are more likely to live near dirty industries or areas with high automobile traffic—and that being exposed to such pollution increases their vulnerability to COVID-19 and other diseases.
The number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases among vaccinated people in the U.S.—5,800 out of 75 million, or 0.00075%—has been “less than I expect,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “Far less.” Experts say some breakthrough cases are normal and expected. Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said it’s possible that the proportion of breakthrough cases will increase, since most people were vaccinated recently and haven’t had much time to be exposed. But he doesn’t expect much change “because of how effective the vaccine is, both at preventing disease and reducing transmission.”
At a recent Senate hearing, Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, recommended the continued use of masks on airplanes and in airports amid the ongoing transmission of highly transmissible COVID-19 variants.
April 22: Coronavirus: Vaccines and women’s health (Boston 25)
Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental, reproductive, and women’s health, said there’s no evidence that the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can harm pregnancies. She said more studies are needed to assess possible side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was put on pause on April 13 after rare blood clots emerged in six women recipients. She also commented on social media reports of changes in women’s menstrual cycles after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, noting that more evidence is needed to understand the impacts.
April 22: What Do You Do When the Kids Are Still Unvaccinated? (New York Times)
Experts said that parents will reach different conclusions about resuming activities with unvaccinated children during the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on their particular circumstances and risk tolerance levels. Stephen Kissler, research fellow, noted, “For people under the age of 19, COVID is really not that big of a risk. I do think of it as on par with the risk from flu.”
April 21: Rapid COVID-19 Home Tests Go on Sale at Major Retailers (AARP)
Rapid COVID-19 tests for at-home use are now available over the counter. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has been a vocal proponent of such tests, called them an important control measure “to know if you’re infectious, especially before you walk into a hospital or nursing home.”
April 21: The Years We’ve Lost to Covid (New York Times)
Health statisticians are increasingly using a calculation called years of life lost to characterize the toll of losses from COVID-19. Years of life lost counts how much time victims could have lived if they hadn’t died prematurely. Those lost years represent a loss of opportunity to do things like raise a family, build a house or business, or be part of a community, say public health experts. “Life has stages, and we all hope to experience all of them,” said Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.
At a recent Senate hearing, Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, who has co-authored reports on air travel safety during COVID-19, said that the circulation of coronavirus variants makes it difficult to determine when masks will no longer be needed on airplanes. “Right now our recommendation from the science community is to continue wearing a mask,” he said.
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, speaking at a Senate hearing on aviation safety, said that by using two measures—either COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result—“it is possible for us to ensure that airplanes, airports, businesses, restaurants, and other public venues are close to COVID-free.”
April 21: 10 Signs Airborne Coronavirus Spread is What Matters (WebMD)
After recent articles in top medical journals backed airborne transmission as the primary mode of coronavirus transmission, several experts welcomed the acknowledgement. “The scientific evidence on spread from both near-field and far-field aerosols has been clear since early on in the pandemic, but there was resistance to acknowledging this in some circles, including the medical journals,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
April 20: More Signs COVID Shots Are Safe for Pregnant Women (WebMD)
Although none of the recent COVID-19 vaccine trials enrolled pregnant or breastfeeding women, because they consider them a high-risk group, smaller studies are suggesting that the vaccines are safe for both mothers and children. Pregnant women may still be hesitant to get vaccinated until larger studies are done, according to Julia Wu, principal investigator of the Human Immunomics Initiative and research scientist at Harvard Chan School, who led a recent study on pregnant women’s views about getting vaccinated. She noted that, until more complete data is available, the chances are greater that people will believe anti-vaccine misinformation on social media.
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine highlights the need for “other approaches in our toolkit” besides vaccines, such as a large rapid testing program. He noted that while vaccines will greatly limit the spread and severity of the coronavirus, it’s unlikely that COVID-19 will be eliminated. “What we will see is as more and more people are vaccinated, the threat that the virus actually poses to us is going to continue to go down and down and down,” he said.
April 19: Combating COVID Vaccine Hesitancy May Be Next Battle For Mass. (WBUR)
Doctoral student Keona Wynne discussed her efforts to convince people are who hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine with a positive, non-political message. She is making parody videos and posting them on social media. She is also helping to organize Boston Vaccine Day, a holiday proposed for the Friday before Labor Day to celebration vaccinations with events across the city, and is trying to make the day a one-time national holiday.
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, quoted
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, quoted
April 16: The Fast Lane for COVID Testing Has Opened Up in the U.S. (Scientific American)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed how the introduction of rapid at-home antigen tests for COVID-19 in the U.S. will be a crucial tool in helping keep outbreaks at bay. The pandemic “is still a massive tragedy every day,” he said. “And if we can use these types of tests to mitigate spread moving forward … that alone might be enough to ensure that outbreaks don’t grow.”
April 16: U.S. to spend $1.7 billion to detect, monitor coronavirus variants (Washington Post)
Commenting on new U.S. funding to track coronavirus variants, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the funding “is unquestionably a good move that will likely help with the pandemic and potentially many other infectious diseases as well.”
April 16: The Next Wave (Harvard Medical School Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed COVID-19 vaccines, how long vaccine-induced immunity might last, the possibility of future surges, and the importance of cheap, rapid antigen tests for at-home use.
More than 75% of the people who’ve been hospitalized, needed a ventilator, or died from COVID-19 have been overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. David Ludwig, professor in the Department of Nutrition, noted that behind advanced age, obesity and metabolic dysfunction are the biggest risk factors for COVID-19 severity. With many people having gained weight during the pandemic, he said it’s time to start talking more about how weight factors into health. “It’s not just about body weight, it’s about maintaining our metabolism, our immunity, our resistance, which we all know is a factor in who gets sick and who gets healthy,” he said.
April 16: Analysis: Hispanic, Black, and Native Americans have carried the burden of COVID-19 pandemic (News Medical)
A UCLA-Harvard analysis of 45 U.S. states and the District of Columbia found that Hispanic, Black, and Native Americans have borne the brunt of the pandemic, both in overall mortality and in years of potential life lost. Jarvis Chen, lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, was a co-author.
April 16: Study attributes Brazil’s failure in the pandemic to the federal government (Rio Times)
In Brazil, public officials—particularly the federal government—failed to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study co-authored by Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography.
Most experts say they are not returning to “normal” life even after being fully vaccinated for COVID-19, given uncertainty about how much the vaccines protect against emerging variants and the continued prevalence of virus throughout the U.S. For example, Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said he would be comfortable with small gatherings of his immediate family. “But I personally will wait for herd immunity before resuming activities involving bigger social functions, going to theaters, or air travel,” he said.
April 15: CDC: About 5,800 ‘breakthrough infections’ reported in fully vaccinated people (NBC News)
Experts say that some “breakthrough infections” among people who have received COVID-19 vaccinations are not unexpected. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that vaccination “does not reduce the risk to nil, but it does reduce the risk to something that we can handle.”
Nishant Kishore, a doctoral student in epidemiology, described how he and colleagues at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics are using cell phone data shows to track people’s mobility during the pandemic, which can shed light on the spread of COVID-19. Recent data shows that mobility in the Boston area is at its highest level since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 testing numbers are dropping, but experts say testing is still needed because the virus is still circulating and large portions of the population are not yet vaccinated. “If we start seeing clusters of cases emerging in places where we wouldn’t expect them to, that gives us a lot of information,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow. “That tells us that we might want to look there for a variant of concern. And the more testing we’re doing, the more quickly we’ll be able to pick those sorts of things up.”
Vaccine misinformation and disinformation, particularly on social media, are major drivers behind vaccine hesitancy, wrote Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, in this opinion piece. He said that if social media companies don’t do more to combat the problem, “the consequences could literally be deadly, as vaccinations are key to stemming the pandemic.”
April 15: Vaccine etiquette: A guide to politely navigating this new phase of the pandemic (Washington Post)
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
Although some studies suggest that vitamin D may help people ward off COVID-19 or avoid becoming seriously ill from the disease, the evidence is inconsistent, according to Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition. “At this point in time, we can’t really draw any firm conclusions,” he said.
Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair, commented on a pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which began after six women between the ages of 18 and 48 developed rare blood clots after being vaccinated. “I think there is enough information to know that for people over 50, [the Johnson & Johnson vaccine] is safe, and I think they could have potentially lifted the pause for the older age group,” he said.
April 14: Empty middle seats reduce virus risk on planes, a new study says, taking no account of mask-wearing. (New York Times)
A new study found that keeping middle seats vacant during flights could reduce passengers’ exposure to airborne coronavirus by 23% to 57%. But the study didn’t take masking into account, even though “masking is the single most effective measure at reducing emissions of respiratory aerosols,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, who was not involved in the research. He noted that masking would reduce the amount of virus that infected passengers emit into the cabin and would likely lower the relative benefit of keeping middle seats open.
The pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine—which began after six women developed rare blood clots in the brain after getting the shots—could deepen suspicions among people who are already skeptical about vaccines, according to public health experts. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that even if the vaccine is linked with clots, its benefits still far outweigh its risks. “These are really low numbers,” she said. “Basically 1 in a million. We accept much higher risks than that any time we drive on a highway.”
April 13: Johnson & Johnson pause could hurt efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy (Sinclair Broadcast Group)
Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that a pause on the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine “will increase vaccine hesitancy because it feeds into people’s natural anxiety.” But she said the apparent risk of complications is “exceptionally low.”
April 13: Halt in J&J shots deepens vaccination uncertainties at a critical time (Boston Globe)
Amid a pause in the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because of a potential link with blood clots, Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said, “This is a rare but serious outcome that needs to be investigated.” He said it needs to be determined whether the vaccine was “causal or coincidental.”
April 13: What you need to know about COVID-19 variants (CommonWealth Magazine)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, spoke at an April 13 Massachusetts Legislature hearing on COVID-19 variants. “We can expect variants to continue to emerge because that’s the way infections work,” said Hanage. He said the best way to stop variants from developing is to prevent new infections, noting that each infection is like “buying the virus a lottery ticket,” and if the virus wins, it will evolve. 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, also spoke at the hearing.
April 13: India Seeks Pfizer, J&J Vaccines With Fast-Tracked Approvals (Bloomberg Quint)
India, facing a record surge in COVID-19 infections, is fast-tracking approvals for several COVID-19 vaccines that have already been approved in the U.S., U.K., European Union, and Japan. Even with the approvals, it’s not clear how many vaccines will be available to India, according to K. Srinath Reddy, adjunct professor of epidemiology and president of the Public Health Foundation of India, a health think tank. The supply “depends on the international demand and where those companies have made commitments,” he said.
April 13: The daunting challenges surrounding vaccine passports (National Geographic)
While vaccine passports could help open economies and allow people to travel during the coronavirus pandemic, there are questions around how the personal data within them will be stored, shared, and protected, say experts. There are also concerns that requiring vaccine passports could put people’s civil liberties and privacy at risk, and could create bias. Said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, “We need to uphold the concepts of equity and fairness and not use this as a tool that can lead to discrimination,” he said.
April 12: Biden, public health officials face crossroads on COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
The Biden administration is working to convince people about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine while also encouraging people to continue taking precautions until the pandemic is under control. “For those who are vaccinated this individual risk may be low, but public health is built on the backs of thousands of individual actions,” noted Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. “Even if your individual risk may be low the goal is to put the lid back on the widespread transmission.”
April 12: A Public Health Lesson for Ron DeSantis, From Harvard (New York Times’ Sway podcast)
In this interview with Kara Swisher, Dean Michelle Williams said that investing in public health is crucial both for keeping people healthy and for maintaining a strong economy. She also discussed a variety of topics related to the pandemic, including the dangers posed by variants, the importance of continuing to mask and distance, the vaccine rollout, health disparities related to disease prevalence and vaccine distribution, vaccine hesitancy, and vaccine passports.
April 12: Can Colleges Require Students to Get the COVID Vaccine? (Teen Vogue)
College and universities are considering whether to establish COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their students. Whether or not they do, college students should still expect precautions such as mask-wearing to remain part of their lives when school begins, said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “Vaccination is going to be another layer of risk mitigation but it’s not going to be like a blanket ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card,” she said.
April 11: Could Covid-19 usher in the age of clean indoor air? (Quartz)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
April 11: Covid-19 Was a Wake-Up Call, Leading Many to Make Lifestyle and Career Changes (Wall Street Journal)
Many Americans are reconsidering what “normal” life will look like in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that while some will be ready to jump fully back into regular life, others won’t. “First you have to recover from being burned out,” she said. “It’s almost like you have to find that joy again.”
April 10: US is ‘weeks away from hitting a vaccine wall’: Demand for COVID shots could plummet by late APRIL and well before herd immunity – as just 59% say they are currently willing to get one (Daily Mail)
With roughly one-third of Americans indicating they’re not interested in COVID-19 vaccination and others saying they want to wait several months or longer to get vaccinated, data from the nonprofit Surgo Ventures forecasts that the U.S. will soon have a supply glut of vaccines. “This analysis shows that despite the general vaccine enthusiasm we are seeing now in the United States, things are going to get really difficult really soon,” said Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health.
April 9: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Few expect major help from Biden’s stimulus package (Politico)
Only about one-third of Americans believe that the recent stimulus package will significantly help them, according to a new POLITICO-Harvard poll designed by Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus. The poll also found that nearly three-quarters of parents and guardians would like to see kids back in the classroom next school year, a slight majority favor returning to the workplace after the pandemic crisis eases, and just over half support employers mandating that their workers get vaccinated.
April 9: The rise of COVID-19 variants may impact our strategy to end the pandemic (WINK News)
With highly transmissible and more deadly coronavirus variants circulating in the U.S., Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, said, “What we want to do is get as many people who are able to be vaccinated as quickly as possible, so that we reduce the likelihood that we come in contact with a variant that the vaccine doesn’t work for.”
April 9: Newsom’s plan to reopen California may be less risky than it seems (LA Times)
April 8: Walmart among newest vaccination sites across Massachusetts (WCVB)
Walmart has begun providing COVID-19 vaccines in Massachusetts. “It’s exciting to see that they’re onboard in a larger partnership,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow. Any Massachusetts residents over age 16 may also now sign up for a vaccine in New Hampshire, where an overabundance of supply led Gov. Chris Sununu to open up shots to anyone, regardless of state residency.
April 8: Rise of coronavirus variants will define the next phase of the pandemic in the U.S.(Washington Post)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, quoted
Many infectious disease experts think the worst of the pandemic is over in the U.S. and that strict shelter-in-place orders are likely behind us. The higher the percentage of people vaccinated, the sooner the pandemic will ease, said experts. Brian Spisak, a research associate at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard Chan School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, said it’s crucial to work on motivating people to get vaccinated as soon possible.
April 8: Rapid Tests, in Time for Fall Surge (Harvard Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of rapid, inexpensive COVID-19 tests for home use will help control outbreaks and prevent lockdowns. He said that, even as vaccination ramps up in the U.S., a fall surge seasonal surge is likely because not everyone will be vaccinated yet, and elderly people—whose immunity from nearly-year-old vaccinations may begin to wane—could be vulnerable.
April 8: Race and ethnicity data on vaccination needed for equitable access, says Ayanna Pressley (Boston Herald)
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, speaking at a Voices in Leadership event on April 8, said that robust racial demographic data on COVID-19 vaccination is needed to avoid “vaccine redlining.” Dean Michelle Williams noted that race and ethnicity data is “unacceptably absent” on coronavirus cases, deaths, and vaccinations.
April 8: Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic Is Sought in Old Blood Samples (Wall Street Journal)
Researchers around the world are examining blood samples from late 2019, and possibly earlier, to determine when the coronavirus began to circulate. At Harvard Chan School, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, is planning to analyze hundreds of thousands of blood-plasma samples from U.S. donors both to monitor the spread of COVID-19 and to detect early outbreaks of diseases in the future. The samples are part of a “global immunological observatory” that he and his team are building, which Mina likens to weather forecasting for diseases.
Experts welcomed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s acknowledgement that the risk of getting the coronavirus from contaminated surfaces and objects is very low. “The most important part of this update is that they’re clearly communicating to the public the correct, low risk from surfaces, which is not a message that has been clearly communicated for the past year,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science.
April 8: Conversations on COVID with Dr. Drazen (The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket)
April 7: How To Talk About COVID Grief in The Classroom (Tech & Learning)
Experts say that it’s important to address COVID-19 grief, loss, and trauma with children, and recommended doing so in the classroom. Christy Denckla, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology, said, “By using direct language, by using clear language, we provide a scaffolding and an infrastructure for kids to start to communicate these words and these thoughts and to have a space to talk about it.”
April 7: Vaccine conversations can be messy. Here’s how to talk about the shots. (Washington Post)
In navigating conversations with family or friends who may be hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, experts recommend not trying to change people’s minds or attacking them, but acknowledging their concerns, asking questions about what might make them feel more confident, and sharing information if they’re open to it. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said to avoid becoming “preachy and moralistic.” He noted that if people “feel that they are being disrespected, they’re not being listened to, that their concerns are not being validated, then they will pull away from you.”
April 7: As states expand vaccines, prisoners still lack access (AP)
Prisoners across the U.S. mostly lack access to the COVID-19 vaccine, many are vaccine hesitant, and both prisoners and staff face an increased risk of contracting and dying from the coronavirus, according to experts. Monik Jiménez, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology, noted that both staff and prisoners need high vaccine coverage in order to effectively reduce COVID-19 transmission. “When you have a place with high rates of transmission, then the vaccine has to work even harder,” she said.
April 7: Power Up: Republican men are hesitant to get vaccinated. At least four GOP senators are among them. (Washington Post)
Some Republican senators appear to have qualms about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. One concern that some may have—that fetal DNA is an ingredient in the vaccine—is based on disinformation. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, noted that such religious concerns represent only a small portion of those who are vaccine hesitant. He said that many people, notably rural GOP voters, distrust medical science and have a “hostility towards the federal government.”
April 6: So you’re unvaccinated and want to see a friend. Here’s how to calculate your risk. (Washington Post)
In this opinion piece, co-authors Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, and Parham Azimi, research fellow in the exposure, epidemiology and risk program, described a new COVID-19 risk calculator tool developed at Harvard Chan School that can help people understand the ways that masking, ventilation, filtration, and other factors can mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
April 6: There’s increasing confidence vaccine supply can meet demand: Doctor (Yahoo! Money)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, called President Biden’s announcement that all U.S. adults will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19 “great news.” He said, “We are in a race against the variants, so the more vaccines we get into people’s arms, the better off we’re going to be as a country and the sooner we can get to herd immunity.”
April 6: What we’ve learned about leadership from the COVID-19 pandemic (PBS NewsHour)
Countries that were able to contain the spread of COVID-19 and keep public trust during the pandemic tended to have clear messaging campaigns and prioritized science over politics, according to experts. For example, in Brazil, where more than 340,000 have died, President Jair Bolsonaro spread misinformation and his government didn’t adequately convey health information to the population, according to Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography.
April 6: Deadline For Every Adult To Be Eligible For A Vaccine Moved To April 19 (NPR’s All Things Considered)
In response to President Biden’s announcement that all U.S. adults will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, some experts warned of the need to focus more on getting shots to those who are most vulnerable. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “Expanding the eligibility in this way is an easy way to add to the numbers, but it’s not necessarily vaccinating those people who would benefit most from the shot.”
April 6: Local Public Health Expert On BMI Based Vaccine Eligibility: ‘We Want To Have An Immune Response In As Many People As Possible’ (WBGH’s All Things Considered)
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, discussed the rationale behind Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to people with a body mass index, or BMI, or 25 or higher. “Several studies that have been done in terms of the risk factors for severe COVID—things like hospitalizations or needing to be hooked up to a ventilator when hospitalized, [and] increased risk for mortality, as well—have shown that those who are overweight are also at increased risk, not just those who are obese,” Piltch-Loeb said.
Experts are debating the merits of delaying a second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 in order to give more people a first dose sooner. Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair, said he thinks delaying the second dose could help bring an end to the current surge in cases in various parts of the U.S., as well as reduce the number of variants.
April 5: Virus Variants: How Mutations Could Shape US Vaccine Policy (Courthouse News)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, quoted
April 5: The intersection of Black women, COVID, and death rates (Boston Globe)
This op-ed, co-authored by Tamara Rushovich, a PhD candidate in Population Health Sciences, cited research she led suggesting that biological factors “at best play a small role” in sex disparities in COVID-19 outcomes. “Rather, social factors influenced by structural gendered racism are key to the patterns of sex disparities revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Rushovich and Sarah Richardson, director of Harvard’s GenderSci Lab. “Black women in the United States are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than every other group, male or female, except Black men.”
April 5: Most Mass. Elementary School Students Return to Class Monday (NBC Boston)
Most elementary school students in Massachusetts returning to in-person learning on April 5 in spite of increasing COVID-19 cases in the state. Some health experts, like Lara Jirmanus, a fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, are uneasy about children returning to classrooms amid the spike. “We have to remember that we’re not vaccinating kids,” she said. “So as we bring children back into the school, it’s almost as if we’re in fact performing a massive experiment with our youth.”
April 4: Top 5 vaccine myths: Meet the top COVID-19 anti-vax advocates (Gulf News)
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
April 3: Why It’s Easier To Get Coronavirus Vaccines In Some States (WBUR)
Although the supply of COVID-19 vaccines is now predictable, some states are ahead of others in getting their populations vaccinated. Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, explained that the differences exist because some states have more robust vaccine distribution systems than others.
April 3: Mass. becomes state with most cases of new COVID-19 variant after Cape Cod outbreaks (Boston Globe)
As of April 3, Massachusetts had more cases of the P.1 variant of COVID-19—which spreads faster than the original strain—than anywhere else in the U.S. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that while vaccines are likely effective against P.1, the state needs to vaccinate many more people to keep it from spreading. “The high vaccination rates [right now] are not themselves sufficient to be protective, and if we allow more transmission, then we’re going to get more cases,” he said.
Health experts say that people vaccinated against COVID-19 should continue to wear masks, because more research is needed to confirm whether they can spread the virus, and because variants are leading to spikes in cases in the U.S. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that while vaccines may greatly reduce COVID-19 transmission, the chances of spread are not zero. “We’ve gone through hell to get to where we are today and the last thing we want to do is keep going through hell,” he said. “Wearing masks is still pretty simple…unless you are in a small space with everyone being vaccinated, I would say err on the site of caution for a little bit longer.”
April 3: US Professional Sports Teams Promote COVID-19 Vaccinations (Voice of America)
Harvey Fineberg, a former dean of Harvard Chan School, said that celebrity sports figures could play a key role in combatting hesitancy about the COVID-19 vaccine. “I could imagine more campaigns that enlisted professional sports athletes,” said Fineberg. “One tagline could be: When it’s your turn, take a shot and let’s get everyone back in the game.”
April 2: COVID-19 numbers are rising again. Should you worry? (Boston Globe)
A rise in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts and Rhode Island could get worse—or not, depending on factors such as whether people keep up with mask-wearing and distancing, according to experts. “We’re at a careful point where it could go in a new direction, or it could go very, very badly,” said Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology. “Where things have gone badly, it’s when we open up too quickly.”
April 2: Cape Cod has 68 COVID-19 variant cases, including 88% of state’s P.1 cases (Cape Cod Times)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, discussed two COVID-19 variants currently circulating on Cape Cod. He said that the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible and capable of causing more severe illness than the original strain of the virus, and that the P.1 variant appears to be more resistant to antibodies from a previous COVID-19 infection and somewhat reduces the effectiveness of vaccines. He noted that vaccines and safety protocols are important to stop the spread of the variants.
Cristina Alonso, DrPH ’21, who has been conducting research on COVID-19 in Chelsea, Mass., discussed wastewater sampling that has detected the B.1.1.7 variant in sites around the city. She said the finding shows that the variant is “going to continue to transmit throughout the Boston area and beyond. And what that tells us is that it’s time to take prevention measures seriously before we can all get vaccinated.”
April 2: A 4th COVID-19 Surge May Be Starting. How Bad Could It Get? (NPR)
Rising COVID-19 case counts and an increase in hospitalizations in many states suggest a growing threat of another significant surge in the disease, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that another surge is inevitable, but “it might not be national, not all at the same time, and the consequences will vary depending on how many people are vaccinated when it kicks off.”
April 2: Approval of at-home tests releases a powerful pandemic-fighting weapon (Harvard Gazette)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the Food and Drug Administration’s recent approval of inexpensive and quick at-home coronavirus tests for over-the-counter sales will be a powerful weapon in fighting COVID-19, because the tests are very good at detecting infections when people are most contagious and because they can catch asymptomatic cases. Even as the nation’s vaccination campaign speeds ahead, tests are still important because some states have relaxed restrictions and cases have spiked, he said. “There’s still 1,000 people dying a day in the United States with COVID—which we’ve become numb to—but this is still a massive tragedy every single day,” he said.
April 1: Experts say ‘herd immunity’ could conquer COVID-19. But is it even possible? (Boston Globe)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was among experts who said that a lack of clear data on the virus and vaccines makes it hard to determine the possibility of reaching herd immunity, which could occur if enough people are vaccinated or otherwise immune to the virus.
April 1: US faces pivotal moment in COVID-19 fight (The Hill)
Although the vaccination campaign is moving along at a solid pace, rising COVID-19 cases pose a threat. As of April 1, cases were up 12% nationally compared to the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some experts are concerned that states are reopening too soon. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, called states reopening a “bad idea” and said they should “at the very least be pausing things.”
April 1: FDA Approves 2 Rapid, At-Home COVID Tests (NPR’s Morning Edition)
The Food and Drug Administration has approved two types of rapid antigen at-home COVID-19 tests for over-the-counter sale. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has been advocating for months for the widespread use of such tests, called the move “a huge milestone.”
April 1: Forget Anti-Vaxxers. ‘Hesitant Vaxxers’ Is The Group To Focus On. (Huff Post)
In trying to convince people to trust science and get shots like the COVID-19 vaccine, the focus should be on “hesitant vaxxers,” who may be apprehensive about vaccines because of misinformation, limited education, or negative medical experiences, but who may be open to learning more about vaccines, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said it’s important to have respect and understanding for those who are hesitant about vaccines. “I don’t think it helps to ignore or dismiss concerns,” he said.
April 1: Are We Way Too Timid in the Way We Fight Covid-19? (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
In this opinion piece, Brian Spisak, a research associate at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard Chan School and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, argued that the best way to promote vaccination is to focus on approaches that trigger people’s “prosocial” behaviors—wanting to get vaccinated because it’s satisfying to help society as a whole—rather than focusing on vaccine certificates. He wrote that using vaccine certificates to shun people from businesses, schools, or other organizations is a punishment-based approach that could lead to resentment, polarization, and discrimination.
March 31: Prof. Wayne Koff : “AI can help us design better, safer and faster vaccines” (European Science-Media Hub)
In this Q&A, Wayne Koff, CEO of the Human Immunomics Initiative, founding president and CEO of the Human Vaccines Project, and adjunct professor of epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, said that artificial intelligence “can help analyze, draw conclusions and generate new research hypotheses from increasingly massive datasets, and can help speed up the process of running scientific studies and generating conclusions from them, including new ways of developing safe and effective vaccines against deadly diseases.”
March 31: 7 Hard and Crucial Lessons of Covid-19 (Elemental)
Among several vital lessons we can take from the COVID-19 pandemic, one is that in-school learning is crucial to the normal functioning of our society. Dean Michelle Williams pointed out that school closures have had a disproportionately negative impact on women, many of whom have left the workforce either due to layoffs or childcare responsibilities. The pandemic also highlighted the continuing social inequities in U.S. society. “Black and Brown people have not only suffered disproportionately from the disease itself but have also been hit especially hard economically,” said Williams.
March 30: Vaccines are about to become a free-for-all. Here’s how to ensure it’s done equitably. (Washington Post)
This opinion piece, co-authored by Dean Michelle Williams, called for the equitable allocation of vaccines to help mitigate the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities, and to boost overall public health. “Promoting equity and protecting public health are flip sides of the same coin,” the authors wrote. “Meaningful herd immunity is not achieved by simply vaccinating the largest number of people, but by vaccinating more of those people who are most likely to get and spread the infection.”
March 30: Recovering from the Emotional Challenges of the Pandemic (New Yorker)
The prolonged period of stress and trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic could result in long-term and pervasive mental health effects, said Archana Basu, a clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a research scientist in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Epidemiology, in this Q&A.
March 30: Five upgrades to make now to COVID vaccine delivery (The Hill)
Millions more Americans will become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in the coming weeks, but “opening eligibility does not lead to better access,” according to this opinion piece co-authored by two experts from Ariadne Labs‘ Better Evidence project, Rebecca Weintraub, director, and Julie Rosenberg, assistant director of project management. The co-authors recommended eliminating the requirement to present identification; simplifying appointment scheduling; allowing group registration for families, households, or other groups; expanding opportunities for users to access vaccination sites; and engaging communities, local leaders, and employers in communication and outreach about vaccination.
March 30: Why indoor spaces are still prime COVID hotspots (Nature)
Experts discussed the importance of keeping indoor spaces well-ventilated to decrease the spread of COVID-19, various methods for doing so, and the challenges involved. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, was quoted.
March 29: The CDC’s $10 Billion School COVID Testing Plan: What to Know (Tech & Learning)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed a Biden administration plan for frequent COVID-19 testing in schools, aimed at keeping schools open for in-person learning. Mina noted that quick and frequent testing will help combat virus variants. “If vaccines aren’t doing all that we’re hoping that they will, this is going to be increasingly helpful,” he said.
March 29: US Faces ‘Impending Doom’ Of Fourth COVID Surge Unless Action Taken Now, CDC Director Says (WGBH’s Greater Boston)
In this television interview, Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that he shares the concern of Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who warned in a briefing about a possible fourth surge of COVID-19. “We are at this critical juncture in the pandemic where we can see the shore, but we’ve been content to just tread water,” he said. “What we really need to do is gather our resolve and swim to shore, and that means continuing with our public health guidance around masking, maintaining common sense public health measures around physical distancing, and really increasing the rate of vaccination.”
March 29: Test and Travel Strategies Might Be Beneficial (Vax Before Travel)
A new computer simulation found that rapid coronavirus tests could detect almost 90% of infectious travelers at airports. First author Mathew Kiang, fellow at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, said the model found that same-day rapid testing was almost as good as results from the more sensitive PCR test.
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
March 28: Cases in Florida, a national Covid bellwether, are rising — especially among younger people. (New York Times)
COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Florida, and a more contagious variant, B.1.1.7, is rising exponentially and accounts for a greater proportion of cases than in any other state. “Wherever we have exponential growth, we have the expectation of a surge in cases, and a surge in cases will lead to hospitalizations and deaths,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
March 27: How Minnesota confirmed the nation’s first Brazilian COVID-19 variant case (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, quoted
March 26: Doctors warn against complacency in life after COVID-19 vaccines (WINK News)
Even though more and more people are receiving COVID-19 vaccines, Stephen Kissler, research fellow, warned against becoming complacent about the virus. “We don’t know what the variants will do,” he said. “We don’t know what new variants will emerge. Each of them undermines our ability to control the pandemic in some way and many times in different ways.”
March 26: What Should We Make Of The AstraZeneca Vaccine? (WGBH)
In this TV interview, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that, with vaccinations increasing, the U.S. could see COVID-19 case numbers drop—but only if people continue to adhere to safety measures, since case counts are still on the high side and variants are circulating. He also said that Astra Zeneca—by failing to initially include the most up-to-date data in a March 22 announcement on the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine in a U.S. trial—“managed to … instill a lack of trust in probably a pretty good vaccine.”
March 26: What will returning to normal feel like? (Boston.com)
As the pandemic eases, some people will return to pre-pandemic normalcy relatively quickly, but others may struggle, according to experts. Some people “are excited and feeling hopeful about things going back to normal and being freed up,” said Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology. “On the other hand, it’s normal that people are feeling a lot of other feelings; it’s not just … universal joy. People might feel great anxiety and stress, as well.”
Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate, put his NFL career on hold last year to work as an orderly in a long-term care facility near Montreal to help fight COVID-19. Duvernay-Tardif, who is also a student at Harvard Chan School, explained his move: “I didn’t want to regret that decision 10 years from now, looking back at 2020, thinking I was spreading the virus instead of trying to fight it.”
March 25: Is ‘Natural Immunity’ Better Than A Coronavirus Vaccine? (The Daily Caller)
Although studies suggest that people gain some protection against COVID-19 after acquiring the disease, vaccines are likely to provide an even stronger level of protection, say experts. Speaking about people with so-called “natural immunity,” William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “Nobody knows exactly how protected they are. Immunity varies from person to person, and wanes somewhat over time. Reinfection is certainly possible.” He added, “Multiple studies show that vaccination [among those who have been previously infected] produces greater immunity than they have already.”
March 25: The Uncertain Science Behind Vaccine Passports (Bloomberg)
Using vaccination status as the metric to allow travel amid the coronavirus pandemic is problematic because there are questions regarding how effective and long-lasting various vaccines will turn out to be, as well as how well they stop transmission, say experts. “Addressing the challenges of vaccine passports is like peeling an onion,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “There are just many, many layers that you don’t necessarily consider when you start thinking about the issue. There could be many unintended consequences.”
March 25: New Jersey’s vaccine rollout is mostly working. In Pennsylvania, it’s more complicated. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Pennsylvania is ranking in the bottom half of U.S. states in terms of getting people efficiently vaccinated for COVID-19. Problems included lack of a centralized vaccination registration system and lack of a phone hotline for residents without Internet access. “This is really where a one-government approach—whether it’s federal and state leaders, or state and local leaders, or all of the above—is so important,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health.
March 25: COVID-19 vaccine protects mothers — and their newborns (Harvard Gazette)
The new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines appear to be highly effective in producing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in pregnant and lactating women, and also appear to confer protective immunity to newborns through breast milk and the placenta, according to a new study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard. Co-senior author of the study Galit Alter, a core member of the Ragon Institute and professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan School, was quoted.
March 24: A program that boosted rapid testing in Canada will try to do the same in the U.S. (New York Times)
A group of researchers that helped ramp up rapid coronavirus testing at Canadian companies is hoping to do the same in the U.S., working with U.S. partners. The team, called the U.S. Rapid Action Consortium, hopes to recruit 12 companies to screen asymptomatic employees with rapid antigen tests on a routine basis. One of the group’s U.S. partners is the COVID Collaborative, a coalition of experts in health, education, and the economy that was co-founded by Harvard Chan Dean Michelle Williams.
March 24: Why It Pays to Think Outside the Box on Coronavirus Tests (New York Times)
A new analysis led by Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Broad Institute, found that if schools, businesses, and other organizations dedicated a substantial portion of their coronavirus testing to people in the surrounding community, they could reduce COVID-19 cases among their members by as much as 25%. “It’s natural in an outbreak for people to become self-serving, self-focused,” she said, but added, “If you’ve been in enough outbreaks you just understand that testing in a box doesn’t make sense. These things are communicable, and they’re coming in from the community.”
March 24: Is This Joker Right That ‘COVID’s Over, Baby’? (Snopes)
A flag-waving man dressed as the Joker character from Batman recently declared to revelers in Miami that “COVID is over, baby!”—a false claim, according to this Snopes article. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, noted that the amorphous and uncertain timeline for when the pandemic will end is a challenge “because it presents a more complicated calculus of what people should be doing in their behavior.”
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, was among several experts who answered questions about what people should and shouldn’t do once they’re fully vaccinated.
March 24: Plan for COVID-19 as Chronic, but Manageable Threat, Experts Say (Voice of America)
Vaccine hesitancy, unequal vaccine access around the world, and a lack of clarity about how long immunity lasts from vaccines or from infection mean that there will be periodic resurgences of COVID-19, and that societies need to plan for how to cope with them, according to experts. “We’re not going to see cases plummet to zero. That’s magical thinking,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
March 23: The public health breakthroughs of the American Rescue Plan (The Hill)
The recently passed $1.9 trillion economic stimulus legislation represents “the most significant investment in public health in a generation,” wrote Dean Michelle Williams in an opinion piece. She said it will greatly reduce poverty in the U.S.; will make health care more affordable and accessible; and will invest in public education, public transit, and public health infrastructure.
March 23: Seeking ‘a leadership moment’ on global vaccination (Harvard Gazette)
In this Q&A, Rebecca Weintraub, director of the Better Evidence program at Ariadne Labs, discussed America’s vaccination program in relation to that of other nations, and how global vaccination can help restore economic activity and reduce risk from variants. “Every dollar spent on global manufacturing of the COVID-19 vaccines is going to have global benefit,” she said. “The sooner we vaccinate and protect the population, the less transmission, the fewer variants, the less need for a booster.”
March 22: There have been many failures over Covid. We cannot afford to forget them (The Guardian)
In this opinion piece, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, wrote that the U.K. government’s delay in taking action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 led to huge loss of life. “We must remember the failures, if only to learn from them,” he wrote. “This is not the last pandemic we will face.”
March 22: Schools finally have the road map they need to fully reopen (Washington Post)
In this opinion piece, co-author Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, praised updated COVID-19 guidance for schools released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on March 19. The guidance recommends three feet of distancing for students when all other prevention strategies are in place, including universal masking, hand-washing, and enhanced ventilation. The guidance also says that schools can stay open regardless of community spread if schools have good controls. “The road map is clear for how to get kids back in class,” the authors wrote. “There can be no more delay.”
March 21: Covid Q&A: How Common Are Vaccine Side Effects? (Bloomberg)
Side effects from COVID-19 vaccines are extremely rare, according to Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “The risk of a serious side effect is so low that we are not actually sure that the ‘side effect is actually due to the vaccine or whether it is something that would have happened anyway because people are people,” she said.
With governors and mayors easing COVID-19 restrictions in various spots across the U.S., and with highly transmissible coronavirus variants such as B.1.17 circulating, the U.S. could experience a surge in cases, according to experts. “This tension between the desire to start opening up and the risk associated with B.1.17 is placing us in a precarious position,” said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “It would be great if people could wait a little bit longer until we get higher levels of vaccine coverage.”
March 19: The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been ‘phenomenal over the last several months’: Doctor (Yahoo! Finance)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, praised the pace of the U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rollout, but cautioned that until many more Americans are vaccinated, it will be important to continue focusing on testing, masking, and distancing.
March 19: The U.S. Has Followed Europe in Previous Covid-19 Surges. Will It Happen Again? (Wall Street Journal)
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that there could be an uptick in COVID-19 cases in locations in the U.S. where restrictions have been lifted and where bars, restaurants, and other activities have reopened.
March 19: When it’s safe to go back to normal (VOX)
Experts say that getting back to a pre-COVID “normal” in the U.S. will happen gradually. “I reckon that point will become apparent in retrospect,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “We will suddenly realize that we are laughing, indoors, with people we don’t know and whose vaccine status is unknown, and we will think, ‘Wow, this would have been unimaginable back when …’”
March 19: Inside Gavin Newsom’s fateful decision to lock down California (Los Angeles Times)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order in March 2020 to combat the coronavirus—a decision that resulted in both praise and condemnation over time. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, called Newsom’s decision “the right response at the right time. And it really started the national awareness and conversation about the public health interventions and public policy interventions that were needed at that time to flatten the curve and start our pandemic response.” But he said that, when reopening the economy, Newsom and other governors lifted restrictions too quickly, which led to more disease surges.
Relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in Massachusetts brought patrons to pubs to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said he thinks that the Baker administration loosened restrictions on restaurants and bars too soon. “Gatherings are going to continue to be risky until a sufficient fraction of the population are vaccinated,” he said.
March 17: These scientists are already on the hunt for the next pandemic (WIRED)
Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Broad Institute, and Christian Happi, a visiting scientist in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard Chan School and a professor at Nigeria’s Redeemer’s University, discussed a disease surveillance system they are working on called Sentinel, currently being piloted in Nigeria. The system involves new diagnostic tests and rapid data sharing to help pinpoint and contain outbreaks. Sabeti noted that an early-warning system for viral threats could help curb a global outbreak as well as mitigate the impact of these diseases in Africa. “African people are very familiar—sadly—with infectious disease,” she said. “But that also means they’re very well poised and positioned to do this.”
The P.1 COVID-19 variant, originally detected in Brazil, was confirmed in a patient in Massachusetts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the variant is thought to be “either more able to re-infect people, more transmissible, or some combination of those.” Given the presence of the variant in the state, he said, “We still need to be getting more people vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to prevent it getting a toehold.”
March 16: As U.S. Vaccinations Rise, Are ‘Vaccine Passports’ for Americans Coming? (HealthDay)
Pressure is mounting for the U.S. to issue “vaccine passports,” with the goal of boosting travel and tourism. But experts say the idea poses drawbacks. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, said the passports could deepen inequities and create concerns over fraud and privacy violations. He added that scientists don’t know how long vaccine-derived immunity lasts, making it unclear how long such passports should be valid.
March 16: After weeks of declining cases, echoes of hot spots emerge in Upper Midwest, New York City area (Washington Post)
With new hot spots of COVID-19 infections emerging in several locations across the U.S., experts warned against a rush to reopen and urged people to continue taking precautions. “I keep trying to say, ‘Just hold off, hold off, hold off, because the vaccine’s coming,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
March 16: How ‘Vaccine Day’ Could Boost Inoculations (Bloomberg)
Members of a vaccine-focused nonprofit called 1Day Sooner have proposed a one-time federal holiday called National Vaccine Day, perhaps on the Friday before Labor Day weekend 2021. The holiday would celebrate the health workers and other essential workers who have been working through the pandemic, as well as help convince skeptics to get vaccinated in order to join the festivities. “We have to make getting vaccinated the coolest option,” said Keona Wynne, a doctoral student in population health sciences and a member of 1Day Sooner’s Vaccine Day initiative steering committee. “I think the buzz and anticipation of doing something fun will motivate many people who are vaccine-hesitant or uncertain.”
March 16: Spring surge in air travel offers a boost for beleaguered airlines — and brings fears of infection rise (Washington Post)
Health experts are concerned that a recent increase in air travel in the U.S. could lead to spikes in COVID-19 infections. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative—part of a study team that found that, overall, the risk of air travel is low—said that people still need to be cautious when flying. “If you’re going from a place where there is low incidence to a place where there’s very high incidence and irresponsible behavior, you’ve got to be extra cautious,” he said. “We’re looking at a problem that will recede as more people are vaccinated, but until then, we need to keep wearing masks and keep social distancing.”
March 16: Science ‘not the only factor’ in Covid decisions, city manager says as call for caution is defeated (Cambridge Day)
The Cambridge City Council voted March 15 against a more cautious reopening in the city in spite of the fact that its expert advisory panel on COVID-19 expressed concern about doing so. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, a resident of Cambridge and a member of the expert panel, warned that coronavirus variants in circulation—especially one first identified in Britain that is more transmissible and probably more deadly—mean that cases are likely to increase.
March 16: Kid COVID-19 vaccine trial begins for Moderna (Boston25)
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, discussed the beginning of a trial to test the safety and efficacy of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in children. Kissler noted that it’s important to test the vaccine in kids because, while they generally don’t get very sick from COVID-19, they can transmit the infection. “So there’s a possibility that if kids remain unvaccinated we could still see transmission of SARS-CoV-2 amongst kids, and that might make it more difficult to control in the overall population.”
March 16: Opinion: How to make sure people still get tested, even as the risk of covid-19 falls (Washington Post)
To incentivize people to get COVID-19 tests amid the vaccine rollout, “we need to dramatically reduce the costs to testing — for example, offer free, rapid tests that are comfortable, easy to use and available at home,” wrote Jessica Cohen, Bruce A. Beal, Robert L. Beal, and Alexander S. Beal Associate Professor of Global Health, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, in this op-ed. Small “nudges” could also help, such as bundling free, at-home rapid tests with reservations for sporting and entertainment events and distributing them to parents at all well-child visits, they wrote.
March 16: Where Health Services stands with COVID vaccine (Harvard Gazette)
In this Q&A, Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and the director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation, and Practice (EPREP) Program at Harvard Chan School, discussed the current status of COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts and at Harvard, the safety and efficacy of these vaccines, and what community members can feel comfortable doing either at home or in public, whether they’ve already been vaccinated or not.
March 16: Why ADE Hasn’t Been a Problem With COVID Vaccines (MedPage Today)
Experts say that there has been no evidence of antibody-dependent enhancement of immunity (ADE)—a potentially deadly immune phenomenon seen with other viral infections and vaccines—associated with COVID-19 vaccines. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that COVID-19 vaccines have a better safety profile than older types of vaccines. “The chances for ADE are much slimmer than with any of the older ways for making virus vaccines,” he said.
March 16: AstraZeneca Vaccine Suspensions Weaken Europe’s Faltering Rollout (New York Times)
The use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended in several European countries amid concerns about a possible connection with side effects such as blood clots and abnormal bleeding. Health authorities suspect the clotting problems are most likely coincidental. Don Goldmann, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that “AstraZeneca is a very substantial part of the European investment. It is going to be delayed and much harder to have enough of the alternative vaccines to have a coordinated rapid response.”
March 16: As K-12 School Reopenings Continue, Educators Urge Reform to In-Person Education System (Harvard Crimson)
March 15: Lessons from Europe’s third coronavirus wave (PRI’s The World)
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that a coronavirus surge currently occurring in Europe “is not unexpected” given the spread of a more contagious variant. He also said that reports of excessive clotting thrombosis among individuals who’d received the AstraZeneca vaccine—which led Italy, France, Germany, Spain and other countries to suspend use of the vaccine—does not prove that the vaccine caused the thrombosis. He noted that the rate of thrombosis in those countries is not greater than would be expected if there were no vaccine. “And on that basis, WHO is saying there is yet no evidence that the vaccine caused the thrombosis,” he said.
To help waylay fears about COVID-19 vaccines among people of color, Harlem-based fashion designer Daniel “Dapper Dan” Day appeared in a Vogue video discussing the importance of vaccination with Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights, director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, and former New York City health commissioner. They addressed how the vaccines were developed and how they work, common concerns about safety, and the reasons why COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color. Dan was also shown getting vaccinated in the video.
March 15: Stimulus could fund ventilation improvements in classrooms (Marketplace Morning Report)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
March 14: The Good News: Dr. Fauci Agrees We Can Reach Normalcy by the Fourth of July (Mother Jones)
Even though vaccine distribution has ramped up significantly in the U.S., the rollout continues to be plagued by disparities. Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights and director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, said that inequities in vaccine distribution—and in the outsized toll of the virus on people of color—are “because of the social consequences of race in our society, which has been reinforced by decades, centuries of bad practices and policies.”
Some U.S. states avoided stringent lockdowns during the pandemic and fared about as well as other states that did impose lockdowns. To explain this, Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, speculated that in states with relaxed guidelines, some people may have chosen to be more vigilant, while people in states with stronger mandates may have followed guidelines such as masking in public but let down their guard in private.
March 12: COVID a Year In: Where We Are and Where We’re Headed (Vanity Fair’s Inside the Hive podcast)
In a wide-ranging interview, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed where the nation stands one year into the pandemic and what to expect in the months to come. He talked about topics including vaccines, variants, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and how people should prepare for the next phase.
March 12: Can Antimicrobial Clothing Fight COVID? (Gear Patrol)
Ramon Sanchez, research associate in the Department of Environmental Health, said that antimicrobial clothing could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in certain high-risk circumstances—such as in hospitals, where a worker’s clothing could become coated with viral particles. But, he added, “don’t solely rely on this technology to prevent COVID-19 as infections are more likely to come from SARS-CoV-2 infected aerosols instead of contaminated surfaces.”
March 11: Fauci: We’ll see a “big difference” in the pandemic by early fall (NBC News)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that while vaccinations are the most important part of the strategy to fight COVID-19, there is other work to do, such as ensuring that vaccine distribution is equitable and continuing to mask and distance in order to protect against circulating variants.
Stephen Kissler, research fellow, said that rapid COVID-19 tests could help life return to normal in the U.S. but that regulatory issues are getting in the way. He noted that most rapid tests are only available with a prescription, adding that testing roughly two or three times per week “seems to be enough to really reduce the probability of an outbreak happening in any given community.”
Evidence suggests that the coronavirus may mutate more easily in immunocompromised patients. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that he has been struck by the “remarkable convergence” in the types of mutations being seen in case studies in different parts of the world.
In response to a new study that showed that more than 20 percent of health care workers have experienced depression and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic, Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health, said that more research is needed to monitor rates of mental illness among these workers over time.
March 10: Looking back on Harvard’s COVID response one year later (Harvard Gazette)
Several faculty members from Harvard Chan School were cited for their efforts in helping Harvard University respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who offered perspective on rapid testing, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, who offered advice on ventilation and engineering controls to minimize exposure. Others cited included Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School, and Katrina Armstrong, head of the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School.
March 10: Harvard researcher leads study on rapid, at-home COVID-19 testing with Citigroup Inc. workers (Boston Globe)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed a study he’s leading to assess the benefits of rapid coronavirus testing. He said he hopes the study will show which approaches work best to quell the spread of disease. “And ideally, when we start to see cases resurge again in the fall—if not before, with variants—we’ll be in a better position to curb those outbreaks, in part through the use of tests like these rapid tests,” he said.
March 10: Inside Harvard’s Cautious Reopening Approach in the Year of Covid (Harvard Crimson)
Edward Nardell, professor in the Departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases, quoted
March 10: The role of vaccines in this pandemic (CBC’s The Current)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that variants and anti-vaccination movements could delay the end of the pandemic, and Wayne Koff, CEO of the Human Immunomics Initiative and adjunct professor of epidemiology, discussed work to create a universal coronavirus vaccine. (Beginning at 29:00)
Although the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is highly protective, especially against severe illness and death, some Americans think it’s inferior to vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, noted that sending the J&J vaccine to poorer zip codes could risk allegations of discrimination. “If you start distributing this vaccine to certain groups and certain neighborhoods, without explaining why it is being done that way, then there is likely to be a perception that ‘my group, my neighborhood, my town is getting this low efficacy vaccine compared to that group, that neighborhood or that town,’” he said.
March 9: Health expert reflects on COVID response and projects hope (CBS Evening News)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, reflected on predictions he made a year ago about the pandemic—he predicted that roughly 80 million U.S. adults would become infected with COVID-19, and his predictions were correct—and said that he’s more hopeful for the months ahead. COVID-19 “won’t be gone, but I think we’ll be in a much more normal place in the fall,” he said.
Although Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram, say they have taken steps to battle vaccine misinformation, clever influencers and posters have been able to work around Facebook’s rules, and the tech giant’s algorithm for identifying misinformation isn’t robust enough, according to experts. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that anti-vaccine groups “are very shrewd and sly” and “are a couple of steps ahead of the platforms and the platforms have to keep catching up with them.”
March 9: Pandemic Presidencies: How Donald Trump and Joe Biden Navigated a Year of COVID-19 (Spectrum News)
This article compared the differences between how President Trump dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and how President Biden is dealing with it now. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, who also served as assistant secretary of health under President Obama, noted that Biden has been more honest and transparent about the pandemic than Trump. Koh added that the “one bright light” during the Trump administration was the timely development of vaccines. Koh also discussed differences in vaccine rollout and coordination between the federal government and states.
Soon the U.S. will have plenty of vaccines, and may face the problem of having to reach some people who may be hesitant, some who don’t feel rushed to get a vaccine, or others who lack access. Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, said so-called “last mile” delivery channels should be planned now to reach vulnerable communities. “We’re going to see vaccination availability, for example, at food banks,” she said.
K. Srinath Reddy, adjunct professor of epidemiology, quoted
Experts, including Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that getting a coronavirus vaccine will not cause a person to test positive on a viral test, such as a PCR or rapid test, but it could cause someone to test positive on an antibody test.
March 8: COVID-19 mental health crisis is hitting young adults (HealthDay)
Laura Kubzansky, co-director of the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness, spoke about how the pandemic is impacting young people’s mental health. “We already knew [young people] have been struggling more than previous generations,” she said. “But now in the pandemic, younger people also seem to be having a harder time with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and so forth, especially those who live alone or are living in more transient circumstances due to schooling or other factors.” Ashima Dogra, recent medical school graduate and a summer 2020 intern with the Lee Kum Sheung Center, was also quoted.
March 8: Don’t let covid-19 keep kids from playing sports (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, recommends that kids be allowed to return to sports, even if COVID-19 is spreading in a community. He said the risks are low if precautions are taken, such as playing outdoors whenever possible, wearing a mask for close contact sports, de-densifying gyms for indoor sports, and limiting time in locker rooms.
March 8: Nation takes baby steps to normality after year in lockdown (The Hill)
As COVID-19 vaccinations increase, experts say that precautions can be slowly loosened, although the virus won’t disappear completely. “The virus isn’t going to go away,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “But it will begin to do less and less damage, because people are going to be immune, so even if they get sick they’re not going to die, for example. Even if they get infected, they won’t end up in the hospital.”
March 7: ‘An essential service’: Inside Biden’s struggle to meet his school reopening promises (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, quoted
March 6: Year of coronavirus pandemic grieving creating ‘perfect storm’ for mental health conditions (Boston Herald)
March 6: Dallas County could reach herd immunity by summer — but that doesn’t mean things will be back to normal (Dallas Morning News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that herd immunity to COVID-19 is “a fluid state. It comes and then it can go.” He noted that, among those who were infected early in the pandemic or were vaccinated early in 2021, immunity could wane by fall and more cases could emerge.
March 5: Coronavirus transmission: SARS-CoV-2 in the air (Knowable Magazine)
In a video interview, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, said it’s clear that the coronavirus spreads mostly via respiratory droplets and aerosols and that too much effort and money are being spent on cleaning instead of on better ventilation and filtration systems. He discussed how to make buildings healthier to fight the pandemic.
March 5: What Does a Pandemic Ending Look Like? (On the Media)
In this podcast, Rachael Piltch-Loeb, preparedness fellow, said that “it’s hard to imagine a unified end” to the pandemic. Some experts say that when there’s an average of 100 deaths a day—similar to the number of deaths attributed to the flu per day—“that will be a ‘reasonably acceptable threshold’ by which we could say the COVID pandemic is over and this is the new norm for society.” But she added, “I don’t think there will be a clear moment when we can say we never have to think about COVID again.”
March 5: The Future of Health Policy in a Partisan United States (JAMA)
Democrats and Republicans are profoundly divided on key issues of health care policy, according to this Perspective article by Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus; John Benson, senior research scientist, and Eric Schneider, adjunct professor of health policy and management. The authors outlined differences on four issues, noting that partisan differences are the least pronounced regarding COVID-19.
The coronavirus could throw further twists our way in the coming months, according to experts speaking at a recent panel that included Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. The panelists predicted some sort of fall resurgence. Said Mina, “The one very clear thing is this isn’t done.”
March 5: The Virus Spread Where Restaurants Reopened or Mask Mandates Were Absent (New York Times)
New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that mask-wearing mandates were linked to fewer coronavirus infections and COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., and that restaurant dining was linked with a rise in infections and deaths. “The study is not surprising,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science. “What’s surprising is that we see some states ignoring all of the evidence and opening up quickly, and removing mask mandates and opening full dining.”
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
March 5: COVID Vaccines May Prevent Spread but Inoculated People Should Still Be Careful (Newsweek)
Early evidence suggests that COVID-19 vaccines likely prevent transmission of the virus, say experts. “I think it is reasonable to be slightly less cautious if vaccinated, but would strongly recommend continuing to mask and reduce contacts until the data are clearer,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
March 4: Still Not Protected: Chelsea COVID study shows second wave hit workers hardest (Chelsea Record)
Cristina Alonso, DrPH ’21, discussed her analysis of COVID-19 cases in Chelsea for the second half of 2020, which found that essential workers were being hit disproportionately hard. “The big finding is number one that despite being almost a year into this pandemic we’re still not taking care of workers on the job,” she said. “They are still getting sick at work and bringing it home and giving it to their families.”
March 4: Popular Drug Does Not Alleviate Mild Covid-19 Symptoms, Study Finds (New York Times)
A new study suggests that ivermectin, which has been prescribed widely during the coronavirus pandemic to treat mild symptoms of the disease, does not speed recovery. Regina Rabinovich, ExxonMobil Malaria Scholar in Residence in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said the new trial adds much-needed data about the drug’s usefulness in treating COVID-19. She added, though, that the study didn’t answer the important question of whether ivermectin can prevent severe disease or death.
March 4: COVID Testing’s Dropped 60% in Massachusetts, and It’s Troubling Experts (NBC Boston)
COVID-19 testing in Massachusetts hit a peak of 25,000 people on January 8, but by February 28 it was down to 9,600—a 60% drop. Rebecca Weintraub, associate faculty member of Ariadne Labs, expressed concern about the drop. “The vaccine will protect us better if we, at the same time, mitigate transmissions and use the playbook that we have: masking, testing and practicing physical distancing,” she said.
March 4: COVID Deaths Soar in Brazil as Bolsonaro Blasts Lockdowns (Truthout)
In this Q&A, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography, discussed COVID-19 in Brazil, where the death toll has topped nearly 260,000, hospitals are overwhelmed with new cases, a dangerous variant called P.1 is spreading, and less than 4% of the population has been vaccinated. Castro said the crisis in Brazil is due to a “combination of inaction and also wrongdoing” by President Jair Bolsonaro and other officials. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” she said.
With COVID-19 vaccinations ramping up, some experts hope the U.S. could have a “normal” summer. But if restrictions are lifted too soon there could be further disease spikes, they say. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said the current situation is like the seventh-inning stretch of a baseball game. “Progress has been made; it’s OK to take stock of that,” he said. “How we play the next two innings determines if this is a single game or turns into a doubleheader.”
March 4: Covid tongue? Why new Covid-19 symptoms keep popping up. (Vox)
Scientists keep discovering new COVID-19 symptoms, such as mouth ulcers and something called “Covid tongue,” a fuzzy yellow-white coating on the tongue. That symptom and others have been reported through the COVID Symptom Study app. Noted Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, who co-leads the study, “I think the lesson is unusual symptoms can come out of the blue with no clear explanation. It has to be on every health care provider’s mind.”
Obesity greatly increases the risks of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Experts say the connection highlights the need for governments to do more to promote healthy eating and more active lifestyles; to take action against poverty and inequity, which has magnified the effects of COVID-19; and taming the power of the food and beverage industry, which often promotes unhealthy products. Noted Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology, “You can spend a few dollars and eat a few hundred calories in a few minutes. And food marketing encourages us to eat every moment of the day.”
Experts discussed possibilities for how the coronavirus pandemic will play out over time. Some think the summer will be better, followed by a spike in the fall. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said he worries that a fall uptick in cases could take a public health toll as well as psychological and societal tolls. “Fall comes along and people have gotten excited about being back in school and doing this and that without what happened last year,” he said. “And then we start to see spread again. And I just think it’s going to be demoralizing.”
March 3: Pregnancy and Covid-19 vaccination (BBC’s Health Check)
Julia Wu, principal investigator of the Human Immunomics Initiative and research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology, discussed her new global survey of attitudes of pregnant women about being vaccinated against COVID-19. (Wu featured at 3:05)
In this Perspective piece, three experts from the Department of Health Policy and Management—Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist; Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus; and Hanna Caporello, program manager—suggested ways to motivate the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19, based on public opinion data from 39 nationally representative polls conducted between August 2020 and February 2021.
March 3: Vaccine research must include pregnant women during COVID and beyond (The Hill)
In this op-ed, Dean Michelle Williams, Steven Phillips of the COVID Collaborative, and Julia Wu, principal investigator of the Human Immunomics Initiative and research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology, highlighted the problem of vaccine hesitancy among pregnant women and called for their inclusion in vaccine studies. They also offered recommendations for serving pregnant women better for the duration of the pandemic.
March 3: Catholics urged by U.S. church leadership to avoid Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine (Washington Times)
Some Catholic leaders are urging Catholics to avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine because it is produced using cell lines derived from decades-old abortions. But Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted, “There is no remnant of the original abortion in the cell line.” The vaccines don’t contain fetal tissue and they are manufactured using lab-grown cells.
Public health experts have widely condemned moves by Texas, Mississippi, and some other states to lift coronavirus restrictions. Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said that while he understood states’ difficulties in deciding whether to reopen their economies, partial reopenings in various parts of the country over the past several months have been “counterproductive” to quelling the virus. As for lifting mask mandates, he said, “The part that doesn’t make any sense at all is the masking part. There’s no economic reason to not wear masks ever.”
March 3: Brazil’s Covid Crisis Is a Warning to the Whole World, Scientists Say (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
March 2: The Case for Covid Optimism (New York Times)
March 2: When even grief is taken away (Harvard Gazette)
The U.S. has seen more than 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. But amid the pandemic, people have been cut off from grieving rituals such as funerals and wakes that typically bring people together for support. At a Forum event, Christy Denckla, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Epidemiology, called the loss of collective grieving combined with other pandemic-related losses a “perfect storm…for long-term, clinically impairing conditions.”
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, warned against relaxing COVID-19 restrictions. He said that cases of the virus are likely to resurge in Massachusetts as a result of the Baker administration’s decision to ease capacity limits at businesses. “Once we start giving the virus more opportunities to transmit, it’s going to take them,” he said.
March 2: This map shows what’s slowing down the vaccine rollout where you live (Fast Company)
Sema Sgaier, adjunct assistant professor of global health and co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit Surgo Ventures, discussed a tool developed by her organization that maps out factors that could make the COVID-19 vaccine rollout slower in some parts of the U.S. than others. Officials can use the tool to better understand where more resources are needed.
March 2: State officials, community leaders try to dissuade residents from vaccine ‘shopping’ (Boston Globe)
Officials and experts in Massachusetts are urging people to take whatever COVID-19 vaccine is offered to them, even though some may be worried that one brand is better than another. “There is confusion, and that is because the [efficacy] numbers are not identical,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “But if I was offered any one of the three, I would not hesitate to take it. The point of the vaccine is to prevent people from dying, and all three of the vaccines show they can do that.”
March 2: It’s a Myth That Asian-Americans Are Doing Well in the Pandemic (Scientific American)
Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, quoted
States across the U.S. are easing COVID-19 restrictions. But Atul Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, surgeon, and Ariadne Labs founder and chair, said that the rollbacks are happening too soon. “We are currently at levels of cases that are still above the highest level of our last surge, so we haven’t even come down below the surge last summer,” said Gawande. “We continue to have 2,000 deaths a day, so this is not the level that we’re in a good shape to just plateau at, we’ve got to push further downward.”
March 1: Virus Variant in Brazil Infected Many Who Had Already Recovered From Covid-19 (New York Times)
New research suggests that a COVID-19 variant called P.1 circulating in Brazil may be able to infect people who previously had a different strain of the disease, and may weaken the protective effect of a Chinese vaccine in use in Brazil. “It’s right to be worried about P.1, and this data gives us the reason why,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
March 1: Amid a chaotic COVID-19 vaccine rollout, states find ways to connect shots with arms (USA Today)
The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been bumpy, with some states doing much better than others. “This is really a function of the total chaos of 50 state health systems in an uncoordinated, unresponsive, underreported system to the federal government,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “Crazy as that may be, that’s the American way.”
March 1: J&J’s single-dose COVID vaccine raises hopes for faster rollout (Nature)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a member of a panel advising the Food and Drug Administration on the health and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, said that a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson—the third to be authored by the FDA—“clearly gets way over the bar. And it’s nice to have a single-dose vaccine.”
March 1: J&J’s Covid Vaccine Could Protect Millions — If People Take It (Bloomberg)
Amid concern that people will be reluctant to take the COVID-19 vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson because its overall efficacy appears lower than other currently available vaccines, Harvard Chan Dean Michelle Williams said that the vaccine can prevent people from getting seriously ill, becoming hospitalized, and overwhelming the health care system. “This is not the time to be quibbling over decimal places or the levels of efficacy we’re seeing,” she said.