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In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories in which they offer comments and context:
July 29: Retailers Revisit Mask Debate After New C.D.C. Guidelines (New York Times)
After the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new recommendations on masking amid a COVID-19 surge, retailers are struggling to figure out masking requirements for customers and employees. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that the CDC is trying to motivate better protections in parts of the U.S. that are having the worst outbreaks, but he suspects that some of those locations—where they “haven’t thought this was a big enough deal to even get vaccinated in the first place”—may ignore the new masking advice.
July 29: The best vaccine incentive might be paid time off (MIT Technology Review)
Some experts think that giving people paid time off work could help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that nearly 20% of all workers, 26% of Black workers, and 40% of Hispanic workers said they hadn’t gotten vaccinated yet because they’re afraid of missing work or because they’re too busy. Some states guarantee paid time off for COVID-19 vaccinations, but in other cases such benefits may depend on what employers will allow, or whether workers understand their rights. “If you’re part of the 94% of private sector workers who are not in a union, you may not know that a benefit exists,” said Justin Feldman, research associate at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights. “And even if you do know that exists, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to exercise it without retaliation.”
July 28: CDC Says: Vaccinated Or Not, Put The Mask Back On. In Some Places. (WGBH’s Greater Boston)
In a TV interview, Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, discussed vaccination and masking as the Delta variant propels a surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Krieger stressed the importance of improving access to vaccines, particularly among people who face obstacles to getting the shots.
July 28: CDC reversal on indoor masking prompts experts to ask, ‘Where’s the data?’ (Washington Post)
According to government officials, new data shows that people vaccinated for COVID-19 can harbor large amounts of the virus, just like unvaccinated people—suggesting that the variant can be spread by people who are vaccinated. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, speculated that because Delta replicates so quickly, people’s immune systems may be playing catch-up. “The immune response, once activated, takes a while to kick in even among people who have been vaccinated,” he explained.
July 28: Singapore Braces for a Leap of Faith in Its Covid Strategy (Bloomberg Quint)
Singapore has had only 37 COVID-19 deaths during the pandemic, a feat achieved by sealing off its population from the outside world for more than a year and imposing tight restrictions. The country is tiptoeing toward reopening, but even with an 80% vaccination rate, experts say the country will likely have to live with some sickness and death from COVID-19, given the spread of highly transmissible variants such as Delta. “No country has demonstrated that it has sufficiently high levels of immunization so that the virus cannot replicate enough to survive in the community in circulation,” noted Harvey Fineberg, a former dean of Harvard Chan School and ex-president of the U.S. National Academy of Medicine.
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that Massachusetts is “absolutely undercounting cases of COVID as we have been through the entire pandemic and we may be undercounting even more now than we have been before.” He said that even with undercounting, it’s still clear that cases are increasing in Massachusetts and across much of the U.S. “I think that there may come a time when we might have to reintroduce masking indoors, when we might have to think about doing more routine surveillance testing to get a better understanding of how Delta is spreading,” he said.
July 26: Medical leaders call for mask requirements, stronger action against COVID-19 in Mass. schools (Boston Globe)
At a July 26 state hearing, public health experts and physicians called for stronger measures to protect Massachusetts schoolchildren against COVID-19, such as requiring masks and automatically vaccinating students unless their parents opt out. Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences—who presented a granular look at the state’s progress on vaccinations—said that there are continuing disparities among communities of color. He noted that 38 out of 42 such high-risk communities are well below the state average for vaccinations among 12- to 15-year-olds, and he called for greater parent outreach in these communities.
July 26: ‘A tipping point’: Government officials, health groups move to require coronavirus vaccines for workers (Washington Post)
Government officials and health groups are moving to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for workers. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, noted that a recent Politico-Harvard poll he designed found that while 66% of adults supported health-care organizations requiring employees to get the shots, Americans were divided over whether other workers or school children should be required to do so.
July 26: Tokyo’s Olympics Were Supposed to Be in 2020. Tokyo’s Covid Protocols Are Still There. (Wall Street Journal)
Some COVID-19 safety measures being emphasized at the Tokyo Olympics—such as plastic partitions—are now thought to be largely unnecessary. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that such partitions “could actually make your ventilation system less effective” by interfering with airflow. He said a better strategy would be to improve ventilation and air filtration in indoor spaces.
July 25: The Delta Variant Is the Symptom of a Bigger Threat: Vaccine Refusal (New York Times)
The current COVID-19 surge is being fueled by vaccine hesitancy and refusal in the U.S., according to experts. Although unvaccinated people are most at risk, vaccinated people can also become infected. “The larger the force of infection that comes from the pandemic in unvaccinated populations, the more breakthrough infections there will be,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
A new poll from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that most Americans who haven’t been vaccinated say they’re unlikely to get the shots. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, said that rampant misinformation about COVID-19 makes it crucial to reach people one-on-one and address their concerns with accurate information.
July 23: Delays, More Masks and Mandatory Shots: Virus Surge Disrupts Office-Return Plans (New York Times)
Companies are reconsidering whether to require that employees be vaccinated for COVID-19 amid a resurgence of the virus. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said, “The big question is not so much ‘Can we keep workers safe in our buildings?’ but ‘Will workers feel comfortable enough coming back, even if good controls are in place?’”
July 23: These 20 U.S. Counties Are ‘Delta Danger Zones’ (WebMD)
An analysis from Surgo Ventures, a nonprofit, found that 20 counties in the U.S.—in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas—are “Delta danger zones.” Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, said the counties “represent the strongest convergence of COVID-19 vulnerability, underlying community barriers to vaccine update, and low vaccination rates of all counties in the United States at this point in time.”
July 23: Keep an eye on severe COVID cases among breakthrough infections, experts say (Boston Globe)
Experts say that, amid a COVID-19 surge, the most important thing to track among breakthrough cases in vaccinated people are those that result in serious illness or death. So far, such cases are very rare. “It makes a lot of sense to be closely tracking anybody who ends up hospitalized or worse,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “I think we can start to relax a little bit our surveillance for these milder cases and certainly asymptomatic ones.”
July 22: Lambda Vs. Delta Variants—What to Know As New Forms of COVID Spread in U.S. (Newsweek)
Given that many people in the world are unvaccinated and therefore susceptible to COVID-19, more variants will continue to emerge, say experts. “We are going to see ongoing viral evolution—where the virus is going to continue to spin off more transmissible variants,” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. She said the most important thing to do is to accelerate worldwide vaccination so that the virus has fewer chances to mutate.
A new study co-authored by Ichiro Kawachi, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Social Epidemiology, found that lower household income, frontline occupations, smoking, and obesity were all associated with higher COVID-19 infection risk in Japan. “When it comes down to the question of who is most vulnerable to getting sick, the data from Japan look very similar to the USA and Europe,” he said. He added that the Olympics could lead to more infections, since many workers at the games have just one dose of vaccine. “Even though precautions have been taken to form a protective bubble around athletes, from an epidemiological perspective, [an outbreak] would appear to be an avoidable and unreasonable risk,” he said.
New projections suggest that the current COVID-19 surge, fueled by the Delta variant, could accelerate through mid-October, peaking at around 60,000 cases and 850 deaths each day. The model suggests that the pandemic is not over yet and that “we’re not going to be able to land the plane without turbulence,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “How much turbulence will track with how many people are vaccinated in a given community.” He added, “I also strongly suspect that Delta is highly prone to superspreading—if I am right, it might go off like a bomb in some undervaccinated communities.”
July 22: Witnessing England’s response to Covid at first hand has profoundly shocked me (The Guardian)
In an op-ed, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, criticized England’s decision to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on July 19. “Thanks to the Covid-curious policies of the past few months, the UK is already in the grip of an uncontrolled epidemic among unvaccinated people, with significant numbers of breakthrough infections among the vaccinated,” he wrote. “And both are about to get worse.”
July 22: What breakthrough infections mean for the Covid vaccines (NBC News)
While research suggests that the available COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protections against the known variants, experts say that some “breakthrough” infections are to be expected, because no vaccine is 100% effective. Infections are more likely with the circulation of highly transmissible variants and with low vaccinations rates in some communities, according to said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
July 22: Covid-19 vaccines: is fractional dosing a solution for supply-short Southeast Asia? (South China Morning Post)
Experts are divided on whether fractional dosing—administering smaller amounts of vaccines to stretch supplies—should be used to help curb COVID-19 in Southeast Asia, where there is limited vaccine supply. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that reduced dosing has merit but more research is needed to demonstrate its effectiveness. “If you get more than half the immune protection from half a dose, or one-fifth the immune protection from one-fifth of the dose … then you can do more good by spreading it more thinly,” he said. “I think it’s worth investigating.”
July 21: Two Ways to Think About the New Mask Debate (The Atlantic)
Whether or not to wear a mask amid rising COVID-19 case counts depends on your personal risk tolerance, living situation, and geographic location, according to experts. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that he agrees with the CDC’s recommendation: “If you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to wear a mask.” While indoor masking may be reasonable in areas with large outbreaks, he doesn’t think a top-down mask mandate for all of America makes sense.
July 21: The New COVID Panic (Slate)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that “Breakthrough is the next frontier” in the COVID-19 pandemic. While vaccination greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization or death, people can still get sick from COVID-19. “A lot of people getting breakthrough diseases won’t be fun, even if they don’t end up in hospital,” he said.
July 21: U.S. Life Expectancy Plunged in 2020, Especially for Black and Hispanic Americans (New York Times)
New federal data shows that the coronavirus pandemic has fueled the steepest decline in life expectancy since World War II—and that, in 2020, there was a far steeper drop among Hispanic and Black Americans than among white Americans. Overall life expectancy fell by a year and a half, but by three years among Hispanic people and by 2.9 years among Black Americans. The coronavirus “uncovered the deep racial and ethnic inequities in access to health, and I don’t think that we’ve ever overcome 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, and former New York City health commissioner.
July 21: Olympics Virus Cases Raise Tricky Questions About Testing (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
July 21: Provincetown COVID-19 cluster grows to 256 confirmed cases, town manager says (Boston Globe)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that a COVID-19 outbreak in Provincetown suggests the presence of the Delta variant because of its “rampant ability to be infectious and get into the next host.”
July 21: Opinion: No, we shouldn’t bring back universal mask mandates (Washington Post)
In an op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, argued that the current masking recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that vaccinated people don’t need to mask indoors, but unvaccinated people should—should not be changed, in spite of an uptick in COVID-19 cases. “All of the vaccines approved for use in the United States remain effective against all covid-19 variants, including delta,” he wrote, noting that “breakthrough” infections are rare and most are asymptomatic.
Experts think that the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling an outbreak of breakthrough COVID-19 cases in Provincetown. “The first thing I thought about it was ‘That’s Delta for you,’” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Even in quite highly vaccinated communities, Delta is capable of transmitting.”
July 18: How can Britain reconcile reopening as virus rampages? (RTE)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
July 17: How to stay safe as covid-19 cases from the delta variant are on the rise (Washington Post)
As the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads through the U.S., public health experts recommend vaccines as the best protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Some experts also recommend that people, including those who are fully vaccinated, continue to wear masks in settings where people may be unvaccinated. Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that while outdoor events are generally less risky for coronavirus transmission, they could still be unsafe, particularly if they’re held in a region with rising COVID-19 cases and low inoculation rates.
July 16: These charts show how coronavirus levels in Mass. are edging up again (Boston Globe)
Key measures of the coronavirus pandemic, including case numbers, hospitalizations, deaths, and data on the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, are on the rise in Massachusetts. Experts think that the state’s high vaccination rate will largely protect people from severe illness and death, but caution that the vaccines aren’t 100% effective. “With cases now rising in so many other places nationwide, we need to monitor carefully any hint of increase in our own state,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner. “We can’t assume it’s over until it’s over.”
With COVID-19 cases doubling in the U.S. in the past two weeks, experts think that infection rates will continue to increase, and that the unvaccinated, including children, and the most vulnerable of the vaccinated—the elderly and the immunocompromised—will be most at risk. The highly contagious Delta variant now accounts for most cases in the U.S., and it’s not clear whether it makes people sicker than previous variants. “The concern about Delta is well placed,” said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “We’re certainly seeing that this wave is something to contend with and not to take lightly.”
July 15: What should Covid mitigation in K-12 schools look like this fall? (The Report Card with Nate Malkus)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was the featured guest on this podcast from the American Enterprise Institute. He discussed the CDC’s recently updated school reopening guidance, the importance of ventilation as a COVID mitigation strategy, and solutions for America’s “sick” school buildings.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, quoted
July 14: Why England’s COVID ‘freedom day’ alarms researchers (Nature)
Experts are worried that easing COVID-19 restrictions in England while infections are on the rise could result in large numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, and lead to the emergence of new variants. “This decision … repeats a pattern of foolishly promising an outcome when dealing with a highly infectious agent,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, alluding to the government’s earlier, premature assurances that the pandemic would soon be over. He criticized the abandonment of “mild” measures such as mandatory mask-wearing. “Getting people to accept small inconveniences for the greater good is what leadership is about,” he said.
July 14: Delta Variant Widens Gulf Between ‘Two Americas’: Vaccinated and Unvaccinated (New York Times)
The Delta variant of the coronavirus is now responsible for more than half of new infections in the U.S., and infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are rising swiftly in some states with low vaccination rates, such as Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Nevada. Nationwide, experts don’t expect high levels of hospitalizations and deaths, as nearly 60% of adults are fully vaccinated. “I think the United States has vaccinated itself out of a national coordinated surge, even though we do expect cases pretty much everywhere,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
In spite of breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among vaccinated people, experts say that vaccines are still highly effective against severe disease and death from all known variants of COVID-19. Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases and a member of the FDA advisory committee that recommended authorizing the use of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for use in the U.S., said, “Yes, the vaccines aren’t perfect. We expect that some folks will still be infected. But both in the studies and in real-life evidence they are awfully good.” Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner, agreed, adding, “We need to accelerate vaccination momentum going forward especially in light of rising national threats from the Delta variant.”
July 13: Should You Invest In An Air Purifier? (Men’s Health)
Experts say that air purifiers can help remove contaminants from indoor air such as bacteria, allergens, pollutants, smoke, pollen, and airborne viruses such as the coronavirus. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, noted that indoor air quality can impact both health and performance.
July 12: Covid-19 Variants and the Vaccine Booster: What You Need to Know (Rolling Stone)
Federal agencies say that fully vaccinated people don’t need a COVID-19 booster shot at this time, although it’s possible that could change in the future. In the meantime, experts say it’s crucial to get as many people vaccinated as possible with the current vaccines, both to protect them from disease and to reduce the possibility of the emergence of new variants—which can occur as long as the virus is circulating. “Right now, the single most important thing that we can do is continue to rapidly push vaccine coverage to try to get the global reservoir of virus down—so basically, the virus has fewer shots on goal,” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
July 11: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Americans sharply divided over vaccine mandates (Politico)
Most Democrats favor employees and students to be vaccinated before they return to work or school, but most Republicans oppose the government or most employers infringing on their individual choice, according to a new POLITICO-Harvard poll. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, who designed the poll, said, “An important takeaway from the poll is that in these [Republican-leaning] areas it is going to be very slow in getting these people to agree to take a vaccine. There is a culture in part of the country that is very resistant to having the government tell people how to live their lives.”
July 9: Phewwww, the CDC is mostly on target in rules for opening school this fall (USA Today)
In an op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, praised new COVID-19 guidance for schools from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He noted that the agency is emphasizing the importance of in-person schooling, acknowledging that decisions on masking and other controls should be based on local conditions, and focusing on improving ventilation.
July 9: What Parents Need to Know About the C.D.C.’s Covid School Guidelines (New York Times)
Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that schools use numerous strategies to keep students, teachers, and staff members safe, including vaccination, masking, testing, distancing, and good ventilation. “I’m glad to see ventilation called out specifically a stand-alone item,” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “We’ve been talking about this for 18 months at this point.”
July 9: POLITICO-Harvard poll: Most Americans believe Covid leaked from lab (Politico)
Fifty-two percent of Americans now believe that the coronavirus leaked from a Chinese lab, up from 29% in March 2020, according to a new poll. Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, who designed the poll, said that people’s views may have changed after President Joe Biden’s recent order that intelligence agencies investigate the virus’ origin, and comments from Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical officer, that’s it’s worth exploring.
July 8: Why Can’t Europeans Travel to America? (New York Times)
Travel lobbying groups and airlines are urging the U.S. to reopen travel with Europe—particularly with countries that have similar vaccination rates as the U.S., such as the U.K., which has fully vaccinated about 51% of its population—but U.S. officials have not indicated when that will happen. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that U.S. officials may be concerned about the spread of more contagious variants, but noted that the Delta variant is already spreading here. “Keeping the Brits out is not going to change that fact,” he said.
Some universities are requiring international students to get re-vaccinated if they previously received a vaccine that wasn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, such as one from China or Russia. Experts differ on whether this requirement is ethical, given that there are no definitive clinical trials showing that it’s safe to be revaccinated. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said, “We don’t want to force college students coming in from abroad to our universities to be the guinea pigs for those trials.”
July 7: Delta Covid-19 Variant Is Dominant U.S. Strain, CDC Data Show (Wall Street Journal)
The Delta variant of the coronavirus made up more than half of COVID-19 infections in the two weeks ending July 3, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that Delta is “slightly more capable of causing breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, particularly those who have yet to receive both shots,” and that unvaccinated people are most at risk for severe disease requiring hospitalization.
July 7: Vaccines show early success against Delta (New York Times)
July 7: The world is worried about the Delta virus variant. Studies show vaccines are effective against it. (New York Times)
Although studies have reached different conclusions about whether or not vaccines protect against infection from the Delta variant of the coronavirus, they agree so far that most vaccines generally prevent severe disease. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that more vaccine effectiveness studies are needed to determine just how big a threat Delta poses to vaccines. “If there are five studies with one outcome and one study with another, I think one can conclude that the five are probably more likely to be correct than the one,” he said.
July 4: Pins, stickers, T-shirts: Is there value in wearing your COVID-19 vaccine status? (Global News)
Wearing a symbol that indicates your vaccination status can help nudge people who are hesitant about getting vaccinated. “I’m not saying it’s the most potent way, but certainly a good way…encouraging others to do it and make it more acceptable,” said Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication.
July 3: Understanding Conflicting Mask Recommendations Amid Delta Variant (NPR’s All Things Considered)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, offered thoughts on why the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance for vaccinated people is that they don’t have to wear masks, while the World Health Organization has advised everyone, even those who are vaccinated, to keep wearing masks because of the threat of the highly transmissible Delta variant. “I think the difference comes down to the fact that the WHO is trying to give advice to the world, whereas the CDC is restricted to the United States,” Hanage said, noting that the U.S. has relatively high levels of vaccination.
July 2: Colorado’s $1 Million Vaccine Drawings Are Almost Over. Did They Convince Anyone To Get The Shot? (Colorado Public Radio)
Ankur Pandya, associate professor of health decision science, said that the way to figure out if vaccine incentive programs actually help move the needle on getting people vaccinated is to compare states that use them to states that don’t. He said that limited data show so far that vaccine lotteries “do have a short-term boost in vaccination rates, but then that wears off.”
July 1: Health Equity task force report goes far beyond health care (Commonwealth Magazine)
A report from a health equity task force appointed by the Massachusetts Legislature recommends improving the health care system to better address COVID-19 inequities, as well as addressing underlying systemic inequities that contributed to disparities seen during the pandemic. Jeffrey Sanchez, an instructor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and member of the task force, noted that the pandemic “exposed what all of us already know…that there’s fundamental cracks in the health care system.”
July 1: Why returning to ‘normal’ feels so not (Harvard Gazette)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, advised returning to “normal” slowly as COVID-19 eases, noting that returning to pre-pandemic routines may feel unsettling. “We’ve all gone through a tremendous amount of change and stress this past year, in lockdowns, in changes to the way we work, live, in every aspect of our lives,” she said. “And now we’re being asked to change back. It’s a time of tremendous change, and it’s good to remind ourselves that all change is stressful.”
June 30: Confronting Our Next National Health Disaster—Long-Haul Covid (New England Journal of Medicine)
Dean Michelle Williams co-authored this Perspective piece on “long-haul Covid,” which is characterized by months of debilitating symptoms and which affects 10% to 30% of people infected with the disease. The authors argued for coordinated national health policy action and response, built on five pillars: prevention; a robust research agenda; the application of lessons from prior experience with postinfection syndromes; the opening of multispecialty long Covid clinics; and health care providers who believe and provide supportive care to their long Covid patients.
June 30: Experts say those in Mass. should respect but not fear the Delta variant (Boston Globe)
Vaccinated people are largely safe from the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19, but it’s still a good idea to take precautions in crowded places or areas with high coronavirus transmission, according to experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the variant is “slightly more capable of causing breakthrough infections in vaccinated people, especially those who have yet to receive both shots, although such infections are much less likely to be serious and require hospitalization.”
June 29: Covid-19 caused a significant decline in life expectancy in Brazil. (New York Times)
A new study led by Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, estimated that life expectancy in Brazil dropped by 1.3 years in 2020 due to COVID-19, bringing the country back to 2014 life expectancy levels. The study also estimated that life expectancy will decline by 1.78 years in 2021. “The decline in 2021 is going to be just horrible,” said Castro. “We are now losing even younger people.”
June 29: Pandemic reopening and economic stress causing mental health issues (Boston Herald)
As the economy picks up steam in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, both employed and unemployed people can face stress, according to Karestan Koenan, professor of psychiatric epidemiology. At a June 29 Forum event, Koenen said that unemployed people facing the end of extra benefits could experience anxiety and depression. And those who are employed—particularly those in the health care field—may face burnout from working through the pandemic with little to no time off, she said.
June 29: Masks Again? Delta Variant’s Spread Prompts Reconsideration of Precautions. (New York Times)
Even though vaccinated people are largely protected against the highly transmissible Delta variant COVID-19, researchers are worried that they may pick up asymptomatic infections and unknowingly spread it to others. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “If you are in a place where cases are climbing, wearing a mask indoors in crowded public spaces is a way to keep yourself from contributing to the spread of Delta.”
June 29: 4 COVID-era habits that people aren’t ready to lose (PBS NewsHour)
As COVID-19 eases in the U.S., people may choose to hold on to certain habits acquired during the pandemic—such as wearing masks, which can protect those who wear them as well as others. Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, said that she plans to keep wearing one on the public bus when she returns to campus in August.
June 29: Why You Still Might Want to Have a Home Covid Test on Hand (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, recommended that people think about using at-home, rapid COVID-19 testing to keep children, the elderly, vulnerable individuals, and unvaccinated people safer in the coming months. “As long as the virus is raging in other parts of the world, the risk is too high to completely let down our guard with testing,” he said. “Unvaccinated people will continue to spread the virus, which happens often without showing any symptoms. And while it’s much less likely, even vaccinated individuals can become infected.”
June 28: Harvard Affiliates Continue to Aid in Covid-19 Response Through Massachusetts-Wide Volunteer Program (Harvard Crimson)
Dean Michelle Williams, Amy Bantham, DrPH’20, and Julia Healey, MPH ’22, discussed Harvard Chan School students’ volunteer work with public health agencies in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
June 28: Ashish Jha on what Massachusetts got right — and wrong — during the COVID-19 pandemic (Boston.com)
In a Q&A, Ashish Jha, adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan school, former director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, and currently dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, discussed Massachusetts’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff shortages in nursing homes are a decades-old problem, according to experts. Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management, said that the ongoing shortages are “emblematic of the systemic neglect of the nursing home system.” And when the pandemic hit, the problem got even worse, he said.
June 27: Threat of delta variant looms large in unvaccinated South (NBC News)
Experts say that the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 could prompt disease surges in rural communities and other pockets of the U.S. where vaccinations have lagged. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was quoted.
June 26: Strategies for increasing vaccination equity (Commonwealth Magazine)
In an op-ed, Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, and co-authors wrote that it’s possible to reach a 75% COVID-19 vaccination rate in Massachusetts. They recommended a strategic plan to target high-risk communities and people under age 30 coupled with a public education and communications campaign.
WBUR’s “On Point” featured science writer Ed Yong, who recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for his coverage of the pandemic, and Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.
Even with the widespread availability of vaccines, and infections and deaths plummeting, people continue to die from COVID-19. Christy Denckla, research associate in the Department of Epidemiology, noted that celebrations of the lives of loved ones—now possible because distancing restrictions have been lifted—can help ease the grieving process.
June 24: Drop in Life Expectancy From COVID Much Worse for Black, Hispanic Americans (HealthDay)
The pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic Americans, has laid bare critical public policy failures, according to Justin Feldman, research associate at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights. “Not everyone’s had the same pandemic,” he said. “People of color are dying at higher rates and at younger ages, and this has been just an incredible failure at the level of federal and state government.” Feldman said he isn’t optimistic that the situation will be better during the next pandemic.
June 24: New study suggests many were infected last year but never diagnosed with COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
Studies have suggested that large numbers of COVID-19 cases have gone undetected, and it’s possible that many people have some level of natural immunity. But Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said, “I think getting vaccination is still incredibly important. Especially with the delta variant which has been shown to have increased household transmission and increased severity of illness, vaccination remains important to protecting the health of individuals and their family members.”
June 24: The Dos and Don’ts of Hot Vax Summer (The Atlantic)
In this article offering tips about safe traveling this summer, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that, if you’re vaccinated, “you really don’t need to worry about your exposure on an airplane, on a bus, in the subway, or at the office, or anywhere else you go.” He noted that when airplanes are running, “the ventilation and filtration are better than you find in a hospital.” If you’re unvaccinated or traveling with unvaccinated kids, Allen recommended wearing a high-quality mask such as an N95, KN95, or KF94.
June 24: How Trump’s blunders fueled our coronavirus nightmare (Washington Post)
In this review of the new book “Nightmare Scenario” by Washington Post reporters Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, wrote that, in the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic, “Over and over again, whenever public health and public relations came into conflict, public health lost out.”
Christoph Lange, professor of biostatistics, and Georg Hahn, research associate and instructor of biostatistics, were quoted on their research, which used a new method to find a connection between a particular mutation in the COVID-19 genome and severe illness. The variant with that mutation was later identified as being part of the highly transmissible and deadly P.1, or Gamma variant, that has spread in Brazil and other countries. Lange and Hahn said that the methodology they used could be a valuable tool to identify dangerous variants of the coronavirus as well as other viruses.
June 23: Spread of delta coronavirus variant exposes poorly vaccinated regions to renewed danger (Washington Post)
Experts think that COVID-19 cases may surge in localized pockets of the U.S. where large numbers of people are not yet vaccinated, because the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus is circulating in the country. “I think a rise in cases is certainly going to happen,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
June 23: COVID vaccines and breastfeeding: what the data say (Nature)
Early research suggests that while COVID-19 vaccines don’t pass through breastmilk, antibodies do—which could be protective for babies. The results so far are promising enough that most experts would urge nursing mothers to get their shots. “If I had an itty-bitty baby right now, I would not take the risk—I would not wait,” said Galit Alter, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “If you can empower your kid with immunity, I wouldn’t even question it.”
June 22: The generosity of vaccine diplomacy is a strategic investment, not a gift (The Hill)
In this op-ed, Dean Michelle Williams argued that “helping vaccinate the world isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.” Doing so, she noted, will help “preempt the kind of outbreaks that have shut down one nation’s economy after the next—and slowed the world’s economic recovery.” Failing to help immunize the world “is not a recipe for strong economies or strong democracies,” Williams wrote. “It will drag down both, causing deeper suffering from which no one is immune.”
June 22: How to Have the Hard Vaccination Conversations (New York Times)
Experts discussed how to navigate the new norms of vaccination disclosure. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that most experts agree that, broadly, “it’s fine to ask anyone if they’ve been vaccinated, if it’s going to influence your decisions about what you do or don’t do with them.”
Although the Biden administration had hoped that 70% of Americans 18 and older would have at least one COVID-19 shot by July Fourth, that goal isn’t likely to be reached until the end of July, according to Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant U.S. secretary of health and state public health commissioner. “That issue is much less of a concern than the fact that some states currently have only half the vaccination rates of others. More needs to be done to reach and protect everyone.”
June 22: Massachusetts hits milestone of 4.1 million people fully vaccinated; US to miss mark (Boston Globe)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, suggested that, now that Massachusetts has reached its goal of vaccinating 4.1 million adults against COVID-19, the Baker administration could set a new target to boost the numbers further, and could be “even more explicit about vaccine equity goals” to “reemphasize the critical message that we cannot be healthy unless everyone is healthy.”
June 22: CDC: Delta Is a ‘Variant of Concern’ (VeryWell Health)
The Delta variant of the coronavirus, which originated in India and now accounts for most cases in the United Kingdom, has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s because it can spread more easily and cause more severe disease, particularly in people who are not fully vaccinated, according to Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases.
June 20: Fight Over Covid’s Origins Renews Debate on Risks of Lab Work (New York Times)
Weighing the risks vs. benefits of “gain-of-function” research—in which microbes are manipulated to become more dangerous, so that researchers can learn more about them—has been immensely challenging. And the current debate over whether COVID-19 leaked from a lab is “just going to make it harder to get back to a serious debate,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. Lipsitch has urged the government to be more transparent about its support of gain-of-function research.
June 18: The 19th Explains: How to manage post-pandemic social anxiety (The 19th)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, and other experts shared tips on how to manage anxiety as society reopens. Koenen recommended bringing a friend to gatherings of new people, or “making a deal with yourself” to go out and socialize, but maybe just for a brief amount of time. She also suggested working out before socializing to reduce stress.
Although a number of countries in Latin America are experiencing some of the world’s highest daily COVID-19 deaths per capita, most of the governments there are not responding with stricter public health measures like lockdowns. Johnattan Garcia Ruiz, a visiting scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population, said that people have been losing trust in the governments, which have failed to secure enough vaccines and to bring down infections.
Over a dozen states have reached the milestone of having 70% of adults with at least one COVID-19 shot. But William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that there are still plenty of people in America who aren’t vaccinated yet, many of them in communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. “We want to be able to protect them for as long as possible until we get vaccination levels really high,” he said.
June 16: Can the CDC be fixed? (New York Times Magazine)
Experts who have worked with and for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the agency has been plagued by a lack of funding, a lack of authority, and a culture that has been warped by both. Said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, “There are a lot of very good people there. But when your resources constantly constrained like that—when you’re constantly told no—that forces you into a defensive crouch.” He added that the process by which the agency monitors disease outbreaks is like a Rube Goldberg machine, hampered by uneven surveillance programs across the country. “There’s no central anything,” he said.
The fast-moving Delta variant of COVID-19, originally detected in India, now accounts for at least 6% of U.S. infections, and could pose a serious threat among unvaccinated populations, according to experts. The variant could cause explosive outbreaks, “and get into people before we are able to get a shot into them,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
June 16: We investigated whether digital contact tracing actually worked in the US (Technology Review)
Many of the apps used in the U.S. to notify people of their potential exposure to COVID-19 are “underutilized, misunderstood, and not well-trusted,” according to this article. Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School, noted that, “In the U.S., the existing apps and tools have never hit the level of adoption necessary for them to be useful,” but that they may be useful in future public health crises.
June 16: Delta COVID-19 Variant Most Worrisome Yet, But Vaccines Still Effective (Voice of America)
The delta variant of the COVID-19 virus, first identified in India, is more infectious and virulent than the fast-spreading alpha variant first identified in the United Kingdom, according to new research. Vaccines work against delta, but not quite as well. And although nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, “lots of the world is going to be facing delta with no such protection,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “It’s really important that those countries that are able to supply vaccines get [them] to those parts of the world that are struggling with [vaccine access] as quickly as possible.”
Jonathan Buonocore, a research scientist at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), co-author of a recent study on the link between tailpipe emissions and mortality in the northeast and mid-Atlantic region, was quoted.
In general, U.S. states with higher vaccination rates have lower rates of COVID-19, although there will be exceptions, said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “A community can have 90% of its residents fully immunized, but if the 10% unvaccinated all hang out together at the same bar or same workplace, you can still get outbreaks,” he said.
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, commented on new research suggesting that COVID-19 cases occurred in the U.S. in late 2019, several weeks before cases were first recognized by health officials. “While it is entirely plausible that the virus was introduced into the United States much earlier than is usually appreciated, it does not mean that this is necessarily strong enough evidence to change how we’re thinking about this,” he said.
June 14: How the Virus Unraveled Hispanic American Families (New York Times)
Hispanic American communities have been hit by high rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and new research shows that they are more likely than white Americans to have died before age 65. 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, noted that when people die young, their families may also be losing a critical breadwinner and parent.
June 14: Germany, where masks are often still mandated, considers loosening the rules. (New York Times)
Germany is considering easing its COVID-19 masking requirements. Karl Lauterbach, adjunct professor of health policy and management and a Social Democratic lawmaker in Germany, cautioned against the move because millions are still unvaccinated.
In this Q&A, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed why it’s important to continue testing for COVID-19, and how different kinds of tests should be used.
June 14: Why Scientists Tweak Lab Viruses to Make Them More Contagious (Scientific American)
One of the reasons that scientists perform “gain-of-function” studies—in which microbes are manipulated to become more dangerous—is to better understand how pathogens evade detection by our immune systems. But such studies are controversial because of concern that deadly pathogens could escape a lab by accident or design. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discussed the pros and cons of gain-of-function studies. He was one of 18 signatories to a May 14 letter published in Science that called for the investigation of a SARS-CoV-2 lab spillover as one of several possible explanations for the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
June 13: U.S. Not On Pace To Meet Biden’s Vaccination Goal (NPR’s Weekend Edition)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the country as a whole is unlikely to meet President Biden’s goal of having 70% of Americans at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 by July 4. “I think we’re going to be close,” he said, but added that as long as there are pockets of unvaccinated people throughout the country, localized outbreaks could occur in the months ahead. He also said that he will continue to wear a mask in crowded places. “The reason is that even though I’m immunized, it’s not complete 100% protection,” he said. “And I really would not want to carry on those chains of transmission such that it would eventually get into an unvaccinated person or somebody who was, for instance, immunocompromised.”
It was easier to develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19 than for HIV or cancer because it was an easier target, according to experts. Roger Shapiro, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases, said, for example, that the smooth surface of the HIV virus—in contrast to the spiked surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus—means that it has fewer targets for vaccine developers to aim at. Other impediments to developing an HIV vaccine include the fact that the virus attacks the immune system itself, and that HIV mutates quickly, he said.
June 11: States Scale Back Pandemic Reporting, Stirring Alarm (NPR’s Morning Edition)
Experts are concerned that a growing number of states have begun scaling back how often they update their dashboards that track the course of the pandemic, especially in light of the fact that dangerous variants, such as the Delta variant first spotted in India, have started to spread in the U.S. “If you turn out the light, you can’t see what’s going on,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Or if you only turn on the light every now and then, something nasty could be building and you wouldn’t know until it was too late.”
June 11: How to Reopen Offices Safely (New York Times)
As workplaces start to reopen as the risk of COVID-19 decreases, employers should focus on steps such as flushing the taps, upgrading ventilation and filtration systems, and alternating employees’ schedules, according to experts including Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.
June 11: The COVID vaccine for teens 12 to 17 is ‘built on the backs of very solid clinical evidence’: Doctor (Yahoo! Finance)
Tom Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, joined Yahoo Finance Live to break down his thoughts on the COVID vaccine and why Americans should get it.
June 11: Herd Immunity Is Not a Magical Percentage (WRCB TV)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Justin Feldman, research associate at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, offered insight on herd immunity, predictions on access issues, and immunity maintenance.
June 10: Ensuring an equitable global vaccine rollout (Bloomberg’s Balance of Power, at 25:35)
Dean Michelle Williams said that the pledge by G7 countries to provide one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poor- and middle-income countries is “very good news, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.”
For those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, there is concern over another coronavirus variant that has emerged. The variant, known as Delta, was first spotted in India. It appears to be the most transmissible variant seen thus far, and may result in greater hospitalizations and deaths. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, explained: “Taken all together, this is something which is really, really anxiety-inducing from a global health perspective.”
June 10: Test everyone once a week (Times of India)
The current COVID-19 situation in India is disastrous, with thousands of deaths reported per day. Universal weekly testing of asymptomatic individuals with at-home rapid antigen tests could be the solution, according to this article co-authored by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
June 9: The Fundamental Question of the Pandemic Is Shifting (The Atlantic)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, and Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, offered insight on bearing the risk that remains at the end of the pandemic, emphasizing that your health is in your hands.
June 9: How to assess risk when going mask-free (WRCB TV)
As the guidelines from the CDC change as more people are vaccinated, there has been confusion on how to assess risk while going mask-free. Eve Wittenberg, a health decision scientist, said that we can’t rely on the “existing calculus in our heads” because the situation is not familiar, and that we don’t know the probabilities of certain outcomes or the different factors that play into a situation like this one.
June 7: As Tokyo Olympics near, why has Japan been so slow to vaccinate its citizens? (USA Today)
Why has a country famous for its efficiency been so inefficient with the vaccine rollout? “A lot of it has to do with the government’s slow response,” said Michael Reich, Taro Takemi Professor of International Health Policy. “And the government’s thinking that Japan had solved the pandemic problem with its earlier policies.”
June 7: How the pandemic ends (The Week)
Experts analyze what it will take to declare victory over COVID-19. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, cautions that “disease transmission is local” and may continue in some areas with lower vaccination rates. “If the coverage is 95 percent in the United States as a whole, but 70 percent in some small town, the virus doesn’t care,” he explained. “It will make its way around the small town.”
June 3: Covid-19: Why race matters for health (Knowable Magazine)
In a video, David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, discusses how the pandemic has highlighted the complex links between inequality, racism, and disease risk in America.
June 3: The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins (Vanity Fair)
June 3: New COVID Test Initiatives Show Why Testing Still Matters (VeryWell Health)
Public health experts say that COVID-19 testing is still important because millions of Americans are still not vaccinated. “With so many people unvaccinated, testing continues to be important for identifying people with COVID-19 so that they can be monitored for treatment if needed and be isolated to keep others at risk from getting the virus,” said Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. He noted that if kids under age 12 aren’t vaccinated by the fall, regular testing will be important for keeping schools open and kids safe.
Good ventilation and air filtration are key strategies to keeping schools open and kids safe, even if COVID-19 cases start to rise in the fall, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.
June 2: This chart shows how younger people are lagging in getting COVID vaccinations in Mass. (Boston Globe)
Experts say it’s important for younger people to get COVID-19 vaccinations—to prevent from getting sick, losing work days, paying high medical bills, and possibly passing on the virus to others who are vulnerable. Said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, “It’s critical to maximize vaccination in younger age groups and make it the new social norm.”
June 2: Opinion: We’re part of a planning group for a covid-19 commission. Here’s why we need one. (Washington Post)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and co-authors explained why they’re participating in a planning group for a national COVID-19 commission that would undertake “a dispassionate study of the pandemic’s course.” They wrote that it’s crucial to sort through what worked and what didn’t during the pandemic, in order to be better prepared for future viruses.
June 2: Generation Pandemic is interested in public health. We should take advantage. (Boston Globe)
An editorial urged that Massachusetts policymakers and health care professionals cultivate talent among young people who are interested in public health, and quoted Louise Keogh Weed, an instructor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. “There’s huge opportunity here, and there’s huge need,” she said. “We just have to get it done.”
June 1: Opinion: Covid-19 cases will likely rise again in the fall. Here’s how to keep schools open. (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, and Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, offered advice on how to keep schools open during the COVID-19 pandemic. They recommended continuing “vaccinating like crazy,” heavily investing in rapid tests, using stimulus funds to improve school ventilation and filtration systems, and requiring kids to use masks in schools if cases spike.
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, noted that Brazil’s devastating COVID-19 outbreak is now spilling over to other regions in Latin America, such as its neighbor Uruguay. Argentina and Chile are also contending with surges. Castro said the combination of highly transmissible variants and complacency has brought many communities to the brink. “We’re only going to be OK when we control the situation in every single country,” said Castro.
June 1: How Does Natural Immunity Compare To COVID-19 Vaccines? (The Daily Caller)
Although people who contract COVID-19 may be protected after being infected, many experts say they should still get vaccinated. “Nobody knows exactly how protected they are,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “Immunity varies from person to person, and wanes somewhat over time.” He said there is evidence of a decrease in immunity in previously infected individuals after eight months.
June 1: COVID-19 vaccines do not create coronavirus variants (Poynter)
A new claim circulating online says that vaccines are creating—instead of fighting—COVID-19 variants. But experts say the claim is false, noting that viruses try to create variants in order to escape any type of immunity—whether it is induced by a vaccine or by being infected naturally. “The virus is always going to try to evolve to promote its own survival,” said Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “It doesn’t mean people shouldn’t get vaccinated. The virus is going to try to evolve to escape natural immunity, even if you choose not to get vaccinated.”
Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, explained the difference between absolute and relative risk. The latter metric is typically used to describe the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
May 30: The U.S. May Never Hit the Herd Immunity Threshold. That’s OK. (New York Times)
In an op-ed, Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and co-authors argued that it may not be necessary to reach herd immunity—the point at which enough people in a population are immune to a pathogen to limit its spread—in order to escape the COVID-19 pandemic. They said that high vaccination rates in the U.S. are likely to enable the country to largely keep COVID-19 at bay. “Every person vaccinated is one who is very unlikely to get infected and spread the virus to friends and family,” they wrote.
May 29: June is seen as last, best chance to boost COVID-19 vaccinations in Massachusetts (Boston Globe)
State officials in Massachusetts say they expect to hit the state’s target of fully vaccinating 4.1 million residents against the coronavirus by mid-June. While reaching that milestone will permit most people to return to normal life, it still won’t be enough to prevent future spikes of the virus among vulnerable populations, according to experts. “This virus has humbled us so many times over the last 16 months,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. “Very few scientists are ready to say we’re going to vanquish this and put it behind us.”
May 27: Island Spirit Helped Avoid Covid Catastrophe (Vineyard Gazette)
In a commentary, Michael Stoto, adjunct professor of biostatistics, wrote about the experience of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. during the pandemic. Noting that the Vineyard fared better than many other places, Stoto wrote, “We must build on the Island spirit that got us through the last 15 months.”
Shruthi Mahalingaiah, assistant professor of environmental, reproductive and women’s health, emphasized the need for more research to understand how COVID-19 could impact menstruation. “We need to understand whether the COVID-19 infection specifically alters the process of menstruation, bleeding lengths or heaviness, or development of the endometrial lining,” she said.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that the Indian diaspora community is being heavily impacted by the COVID-19 crisis back home. “There are more people that are a part of Indian diaspora than any other time in history,” he noted. “Second, we are spread all over the world Third, it’s a media age: We can see the tragedy happening in South Asia. Social media is interconnecting us, and WhatsApp, and we are hearing from family and friends, and that gets amplified. Everyone is touched b this.”
May 27: Scientists Don’t Want to Ignore the ‘Lab Leak’ Theory, Despite No New Evidence (New York Times)
Although most experts lean toward the theory that the coronavirus emerged from animal-to-human transmission, there remains the possibility that the virus leaked from a lab, according to experts including Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
May 27: Harvard Researchers and Clinicians Battle ‘Silent Pandemic’ of Mental Health Issues (Harvard Crimson)
Several experts from Harvard Chan School discussed the significant toll the pandemic has taken on mental health, the persistent inequities in access to mental health resources and care, and the importance of caring for people’s mental health as part of their overall health. Experts quoted included Jordan Smoller, professor in the Department of Epidemiology; Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population; S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences; Bizu Gelaye, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology; and Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology.
May 27: Covid-19 Is Killing Hundreds of Pregnant Women and Babies in Brazil (Wall Street Journal)
In Brazil, more than 100 pregnant women are dying from COVID-19 every month, and at least 579 babies under the age have 1 have died from the disease, according to government figures. Experts say the highly contagious and possibly more deadly P.1 variant of the coronavirus, which has spread through Brazil, may be making COVID-19 particularly risky for pregnant women. “What’s happening in Brazil is so concerning,” said Neel Shah, an obstetrician, research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, and director of the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs. “I can only imagine the degree of fear when the government comes out and says there is a new strain and it seems to be impacting pregnant people differently.”
May 27: Bacow’s First Three Years ‘Colored by the Pandemic’ (Harvard Crimson)
Dyann Wirth, Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases, said she thinks that “Harvard has done a reasonable job of balancing risk and the need to continue activities” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
May 26: The Search For Vaccination Proof That Works Better Than Paper Cards (NPR’s All Things Considered)
With COVID-19 restrictions easing, would-be travelers may need to show proof that they’re vaccinated—but paper vaccination cards can be easily forged, damaged, or lost, and there’s no universal digital passport yet. Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, said, ‘There should be either government systems or private sector systems that are reliable that I can use to show to an airline that I’ve been vaccinated.”
May 26: Local experts support Biden’s call for intelligence community probe into origins of COVID-19 (Boston Globe)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics—who was one of 18 scientists calling for further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in a recent letter published in the journal Science—was quoted.
May 26: So You’re Vaccinated! How Can You Let People Know? (Wired)
Wearing stickers, buttons, T-shirts, and bracelets to signal that you’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 can help create a positive environment, according to experts including Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication.
May 25: Let’s finally get COVID-19 testing right (The Hill)
The U.S. needs a testing policy for COVID-19 that should prioritize “protecting the vulnerable, managing hotbeds of spread and scanning for future outbreaks,” wrote Stephen Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, in this opinion piece. “Vaccination will help us to manage the worst effects of COVID-19 … but vaccination alone will not be enough.”
In spite of the availability of effective vaccines for COVID-19, testing is still needed to catch any new outbreaks that occur, according to Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “Testing is our eye on the virus,” he wrote in an Ideas piece. “Without testing, we can’t see where it is or where it is going.” He said that it’s “essential that we leverage accurate and highly accessible rapid testing to keep schools, workplaces and travel open in the safest way possible.”
May 25: Inequities in care, misinformation fuel COVID deaths among poor, indigenous Brazilians (PBS Newshour)
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, said that an equitable response by the Brazilian health service to the COVID-19 pandemic would have led to fewer deaths—but that didn’t happen.
May 25: How to fly safely this summer (San Jose Mercury News)
May 25: Will we need COVID-19 booster shots? Increasingly, the expectation is yes (MarketWatch)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and other experts commented on the likelihood that vaccinated people’s immunity to COVID-19 will wane over time and that they may need booster shots.
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases and a member of the FDA advisory committee that recommended authorizing the use of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for use in the U.S., called Moderna’s announcement that their vaccine is highly effective in 12- to 15-year-olds “another piece of good news.” But he said he would like to see further data from the company.
May 25: The Beginning of the End of the American Pandemic (The New Yorker)
This article described the various factors at play as the pandemic wanes in the U.S., including increasing vaccination, immunity from natural infection, and the ability of vaccines to work against major coronavirus variants. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that some parts of the country with high immunization rates will reach something close to herd immunity before others. “There won’t be one national end [to the pandemic],” he said. “We’re going to see a fundamental change in terms of what it means to live in this country, but there’s also going to be a lot of local variation.”
May 24: Survey finds 4 main types of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy (CBS News)
Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health, discussed her recent survey that asked people why they aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine and that found some broad reasons why people are skeptical.
May 24: Coming to Terms With Weight Issues (New York Times)
In a letter to the New York Times, S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, noted that there’s been a steep rise in eating disorders during the pandemic, and said she’s particularly concerned about teens being targeted to “fix” their pandemic-remodeled bodies.
With vaccination slowing the spread of the coronavirus, some schools are reopening without widespread COVID-19 screening in place, although some experts argue that testing will still be important for stemming outbreaks among unvaccinated kids. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that school screening programs could help the community at large by serving as an early-warning system for any virus variants that could post a threat to the elderly. He noted that many elderly, even if vaccinated, may become susceptible again because of waning immunity.
Although most fully vaccinated people can skip COVID-19 tests, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that, with more than 60% of Americans not fully vaccinated, screening of those without symptoms still has a role.
Public health experts say that, in spite of increasing vaccination uptake, the coronavirus will continue to be a threat to elderly seniors. “Elderly people, the very people we have gone through economic shutdowns to protect, generally don’t hold on to their immunological protection as well as younger individuals,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. “I would be very surprised if we don’t see a resurgence of cases, in a much smaller degree, this fall and winter. Those will end up getting into some of the senior living centers and nursing homes and we will see additional cases that are very worrying.”
An app co-created by a Florida educator in Broad Institute infectious disease researchers—including Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School—simulates what would happen during a pandemic, and helps students learn about its dangers and how to mitigate them.
May 22: Having taken criticism for being overcautious, the CDC tries the opposite (The Economist)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, quoted
May 21: Family Caregivers Feel the Pandemic’s Weight (New York Times)
Early research is showing that family caregivers have struggled through the pandemic with issues such as anxiety and depression. A study by postdoctoral fellow Sung Park, a sociologist and demographer at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, also found that long-term caregivers had much higher rates of physical symptoms like headaches, body aches, and abdominal discomfort than caregivers who provided assistance for a year or less.
May 21: Tens of thousands of Mass. 12- to 15-year-olds got COVID shots in the first week of eligibility (Boston Globe )
Sixteen percent of 12- to 15-year-olds in Massachusetts received at least one COVID-19 vaccine in the first week that it was approved for use in their age group. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, called the progress “an excellent start.” He said he expect numbers to rise soon.
May 21: Some remain at risk for serious COVID-19 complications — even after vaccinations (Boston Globe)
People with weakened immune systems, who tend to produce fewer antibodies in response to vaccines, may still be at risk for serious complications from COVID-19 even after being vaccinated, say experts. The severity of COVID-19 cases among people with compromised immune systems could vary greatly from patient to patient, said Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases. “It’s very specific for what their [underlying] disease is, and what their treatments are,” he said.
May 20: ‘Use it or lose it’ policy for COVID vaccines needs an equity focus (The Hill)
In an opinion piece, Dean Michelle Williams and her co-authors argued that the allocation of vaccines in the U.S. should factor in which populations are most at risk of contracting COVID-19.
May 20: How Long Do Vaccine Protections Last? Science Can’t Say for Sure (Bloomberg)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that it could be months before researchers understand how long vaccines can protect against the coronavirus. He said that measuring people’s antibody levels doesn’t help right now because it’s not yet known what level of antibodies will provide robust protection, and that it will require testing many people over time to learn more.
May 19: What Really Happened With that Weird Yankees COVID Outbreak (New York Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained why eight members of the Yankees recently tested positive for COVID-19 even though they’d been vaccinated. He said the vaccines are very good at protecting people from illness but may still allow the coronavirus to grow—and that the highly sensitive PCR tests given to the Yankees can detect even very small amounts of virus.
May 19: Children face added mental health struggles during pandemic (Roll Call)
Children’s mental health has been harshly affected by COVID-19–related social restrictions, school closures, parental health and family financial stressors, according to experts. “Children are uniquely suffering in ways we have barely begun to grasp,” said Dean Michelle Williams. “This is nothing less than a crisis.”
Pandemics always end, one way or another, say experts. In the past, viruses that caused pandemics have become endemic—meaning that they continue to circulate but, as people’s immune systems learn how to fend off the deadliest infections, they cause mostly milder illness. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said he thinks that the most likely scenario with the coronavirus is that “almost everybody has some form of immunity from natural infection and/or vaccination and/or one followed by the other, and that that will persist long enough so that they don’t get really sick when they get it again. And then we transition to endemicity.”
May 18: All states should harness nurses’ full potential (STAT)
An opinion piece co-authored by David Williams, Florence Sprague Norman and Laura Smart Norman Professor of Public Health and chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, argued for giving more nurses “full practice authority,” which allows advanced practice registered nurses to prescribe medications, make diagnoses, and provide treatment independent of a physician. “When nurses are free to fully deploy their expertise and training, they not only improve health care quality and access but can also help dismantle systemic inequities tied to geography, racism and poverty that affect people’s health,” the authors wrote.
May 18: Meet the Four Kinds of People Holding Us Back From Full Vaccination (New York Times)
In an opinion piece, Sema Sgaier, CEO of Surgo Ventures and adjunct assistant professor of global health, describes four categories of people in the U.S. who have yet to be vaccinated: the watchful (8%), the cost-anxious (9%), the system distrusters (4%), and the COVID skeptics (14%). Sgaier’s estimates were based on a national survey of U.S. adults.
May 18: Opinion: The CDC’s critics are wrong. The agency was right to relax indoor masking. (Washington Post)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, argued that it makes sense to relax indoor masking because a combination of highly effective vaccines, natural immunity, and low reinfection rates are combining to dramatically reduce the threat of the coronavirus. “The signs are indisputable; the vaccines are having an extraordinary effect,” Allen wrote.
May 18: New OSHA Standards Coming for COVID Workplace Safety (WebMD)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon set new standards aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19 in the workplace. Although it’s not yet known what the standards will be, Gregory Wagner, adjunct professor of environmental health, at Harvard Chan School and a former adviser at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), noted that, typically, “OSHA takes the scientific recommendations of NIOSH and often incorporates them into the standard setting process.”
May 18: How Ashish Jha became network TV’s everyman expert on Covid (STAT)
Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health and adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, said he has done TV interviews throughout the pandemic in order to help translate complex science. “As a public health person, this is my obligation,” he said.
People sometimes talk about herd immunity for COVID-19—the tipping point when enough people are either infected or vaccinated so that the virus has nowhere left to spread—as some sort of finish line for the pandemic. But Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, says that’s an illusion. “Based on the best calculations I know how to do, it will be impossible or very difficult to reach [herd immunity] in many parts of the United States,” he said.
May 17: Mass. Governor Lifting All COVID-19 Restrictions On May 29 (WBUR)
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, discussed the public health perspective regarding Massachusetts’ plan to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions by May 29.
May 17: How a Colorado Campus Became a Pandemic Laboratory (New York Times)
Pardis Sabeti, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard Chan School and a member of the Broad Institute, discussed the collaboration over the past year between Colorado Mesa University and the Broad exploring new approaches to managing viral outbreaks. The effort involves a sophisticated system for tracking COVID-19 symptoms and cases across campus, recording students’ contacts, mapping case clusters, finding chains of viral transmission, and monitoring the spread of variants.
May 16: Why A Group Of Scientists Are Calling For An Investigation Into Origin Of Pandemic (WBUR’s Morning Edition)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, explained why he signed a letter published in the journal Science that called for a thorough investigation to determine the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. “There just aren’t any answers yet, one way or another, about how the coronavirus that’s now ravaging the world began,” he said.
Some scientists said that although new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says that vaccinated adults don’t need to wear masks for the most part, it’s possible that masking will be still be needed in the future if there’s another surge of COVID-19. “It’s important to not see this change as a signal that this means that the pandemic is over or that there is no capacity for policy reversals in the future,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
May 15: Nearly half of Americans don’t trust CDC and FDA — that’s a problem (The Hill)
In an op-ed, Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, and Mary Findling, research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed their recent survey that found that while most Americans greatly appreciate the field of public health and want to spend more money on it at the federal level, they also have low levels of trust in the institutions that lead the field—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration—and in the public health system’s current performance.
May 14: ‘In India, anything and everything is a super-spreader event’ (Harvard Gazette)
In a Q&A, S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography, discussed how super-spreader events and challenges with vaccines, hospital capacity, and overcrowding have contributed to India’s COVID-19 crisis.
Both Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, and Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that Massachusetts should adopt new COVID-19 guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that fully vaccinated Americans may forego masks in most settings. They said it’s best when there’s uniform public health guidance.
Marcia Testa, senior lecturer on biostatistics and president of the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, noted that even if Massachusetts changes its rules about masking, local boards of health may still require masks in certain circumstances, such as if a community has high rates of coronavirus.
May 14: Philip Nolan says criticism of ‘snake oil’ antigen tweet is ‘fair enough’ (Irish Times)
Twitter comments by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
May 14: Scientists call for ‘proper investigation’ into virus origins (Washington Post)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was one of 18 scientists who called for a “proper investigation” into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, and the possibility that it was triggered by a laboratory incident, in a recent letter in the journal Science. A joint investigation into the virus’ origins by the World Health Organization and China, released in March, found that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus leaked from a lab. But the 18 scientists wrote that the possibility remains viable.
May 13: Poll Finds Public Health Has A Trust Problem (NPR’s Morning Edition)
Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, discussed a recent survey he oversaw that found a high level of mistrust of public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced new guidelines saying that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors to protect against COVID-19. But because it’s difficult to know for sure is someone is vaccinated or not, enforcing the guidelines could be tricky, said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow. “We’re creating a situation where private companies or individuals are responsible for their business and find(ing) out if people are vaccinated—if they’re even going to be enforcing that,” she said. She added, “We don’t know what vaccine effectiveness will look like if we drop recommendations of mask wearing and social distancing… To ignore a sense of caution indoors is too big of a jump at this point in time.”
May 13: Vaccinated Americans May Go Without Masks in Most Places, Federal Officials Say (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, commented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated advice on masking—that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus don’t need to wear masks in most indoor settings. He said that the new guidelines may help restore confidence in the agency, which has been criticized in the past for being too cautious in its guidance regarding COVID-19. “Given vaccination rates in some places, there’s the possibility that things might go awry locally,” he said. But “the benefit in terms of encouraging people to get the shot among those who don’t like their masks might well outweigh it.”
May 13: So Far, Vaccines Remain Effective Against Variants (FactCheck.org)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that while the effectiveness of the available COVID-19 vaccines isn’t as strong for some variants that are currently circulating, “it doesn’t seem hugely destructive. It’s not like these variants are able to completely break through people’s immune systems.”
May 13: COVID-19 mental health traumas to linger even as pandemic eases on Cape Cod (Cape Cod Times)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that the pandemic—combined with social isolation, bereavement, and stigma—“has created a perfect storm of conditions for short-term and long-term mental health problems.” The ebbing of the pandemic and the lifting of restrictions won’t necessarily heal people’s psychological distress, she noted.
May 13: More Than 2,600 Travelers Banned for Not Complying With Mask Mandate (NBC Bay Area)
Major commercial airlines in the U.S. have banned more than 2,600 passengers for refusing to wear a mask or follow COVID-19 protocols while flying. “The mask really does make a difference,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. “The better the compliance with the face mask, the more people who get vaccinated, the quicker we’re going to get to the other side of this crisis. That’s simply the way it works.”
Albert Hofman, Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Public Health and Clinical Epidemiology and chair of the Department of Epidemiology, said that a paper claiming that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine causes Alzheimer’s disease provides no evidence for that finding, which he described as “untenable.”
May 12: They Haven’t Gotten a Covid Vaccine Yet. But They Aren’t ‘Hesitant’ Either. (New York Times)
According to a new U.S. census estimate, a sizeable proportion of the U.S. population—roughly 30 million adults—are open to getting a COVID-19 vaccine but have not done so yet, for a variety of reasons, such as having jobs or family obligations that give them only limited discretionary time. Many are low-income or don’t have a college degree; some have health issues, disabilities, or face language barriers; and others don’t have a regular doctor or are socially isolated, according to an analysis of the census data by Justin Feldman, research associate at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights. “It helps break this question down of attitude versus access,” said Feldman. “With people who have not been vaccinated, some are disinclined, but others are facing structural barriers.”
Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, discussed measures in place in airplanes and at airports to protect passengers from COVID-19, such as required masking, deep cleaning, and increased use of air filtration systems. “People can fly with a high degree of confidence, knowing that there are multiple layers in place to provide that protection from COVID-19 when they’re flying,” he said.
National Institutes of Health immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped lead the NIH’s development of the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna, discussed her upcoming role at Harvard Chan School, where she will head a lab focused on next-generation vaccines for coronaviruses.
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a medical school graduate who spent a year helping out in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic and taking courses at Harvard Chan School, said he is returning to his previous role—as a football player for the Kansas City Chiefs.
May 10: Debate over school mask mandates intensifies across the country (FOX News)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said he thinks that people should continue wearing masks indoors for a bit longer—until more U.S. adults get vaccinated for COVID-19—but that indoor masking mandates should end by early July.
Even with more people receiving COVID-19 vaccines every day and case numbers falling, some fully vaccinated Americans are hesitant to let their guard down, say experts. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, noted that humans are hardwired to avoid things that threaten them. “The challenge is because it’s so easy to learn, it’s hard to unlearn,” she said. “Because our brains have evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.” She recommended that people try situations that make them anxious in small and gradual steps. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, was also quoted.
May 7: At This Hour With Kate Bolduan – Joseph Allen Clip (CNN)
Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, offered advice on when and where to continue wear masks to protect against COVID-19—and noted that the risk continues to decline.
Evan Benjamin, chief medical officer at Ariadne Labs and an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, discussed a toolkit his team created to help increase public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. The toolkit includes best practices for medical providers looking to start conversations about the vaccines with hesitant patients.
COVID-19 vaccines are currently approved for kids over age 16, and may soon be approved for kids as young as age 12. Allan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, noted that rates of pediatric vaccinations in Massachusetts are already beginning to show some of the same demographic disparities seen in adult vaccination. Lower-income communities such as Brockton, Chelsea, Lynn, and Revere—which have had some of the highest infection rates in the state—have been among the slowest in getting teens vaccinated, he said.
May 7: ‘Crying Out for Help’: Harvard Affiliates on Pandemic Front Line Describe Mental Health Toll (Harvard Crimson)
Medical professionals at Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals said they have faced increased stress, depression, anxiety, loneliness, and burnout during the pandemic. Paul Biddinger, medical director for emergency preparedness at Mass General Brigham and the director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation, and Practice (EPREP) Program at Harvard Chan School, said, “The psychological wounds of the pandemic will likely linger for a while. I think the people should be aware of what the wounds and needs are of medical providers going forward, as they will need time to process and heal themselves.”
A study that measured excess mortality estimated that the number of people who died from COVID-19 is far higher than official estimates, both in the U.S. and worldwide, although some experts expressed skepticism about the findings. “I think that the overall message of this (that deaths have been substantially undercounted and in some places more than others) is likely sound, but the absolute numbers are less so for a lot of reasons,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
May 6: We need to insure equitable vaccine access: Dr. Tom Tsai (Yahoo! Finance)
May 6: Can Incentives Sway the Vaccine-Hesitant? (Bloomberg)
Ankur Pandya, associate professor of health decision science, discussed the possibility that incentives, such as free beer or cash, could nudge people who are vaccine-hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. He noted that more rigorous testing is needed to see what incentive campaigns might work.
May 6: To Mask Or Not To Mask? (WBUR’s “Radio Boston”)
May 6: What If The US Doesn’t Reach Herd Immunity?(WGBH)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that herd immunity works on a continuum. He said that even if full herd immunity isn’t reached, the U.S. will hopefully be able to protect the people most vulnerable to COVID-19 and be able to handle any additional cases that might occur. He also called for incentivizing and educating people as much as possible to convince them to get vaccinated.
May 6: How Indian doctors abroad are helping their country fight Covid (Quartz)
Ramya Pinnamaneni, research fellow, quoted
May 6: India’s COVID-19 emergency a global reminder as cases decline in US (ABC News “The Breakdown”)
Dean Michelle Williams discussed the importance of getting more people vaccinated for COVID-19 in India, in the U.S., and around the world. She stressed the need “to collectively work together to break the spread of this pandemic,” noting that “the threat anywhere in the globe is a threat to all of us.”
May 6: Covid-19 vaccine may have significantly cut deaths among elderly despite spread of new strain, Brazil research shows (South China Morning Post)
A rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations among elderly Brazilians may have significantly reduced deaths even though a new contagious and deadly variant of the virus was spreading, according to a preprint study co-authored by Cesar Victora, visiting scientist in the Department of Global Health and Population, Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, and research assistant Susie Gurzenda.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, was among experts commenting on what kinds of things are OK to ask people about regarding COVID-19 vaccines. For instance, he said it’s OK to ask if people are vaccinated before a gathering, because it contributes to the greater good and health of all. “I would opt for honesty and openness, politely, rather than worry about [offending people] and unwittingly be part of this transmission,” he said.
If there’s enough vaccine uptake and people continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and distancing, it’s possible that levels of coronavirus infections could drop to low levels by July, according to a new paper from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said the report confirms what was already known—“more vaccines good, less vaccines bad”—and that other public health measures remain crucial to minimizing viral spread.
May 5: Can I Take Painkillers Before or After a COVID Vaccine? (The Independent)
Experts recommend avoiding taking pain relief medication before or after getting a COVID-19 vaccine in order to give your immune system the best change of learning how to fight the coronavirus. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that allowing your body to deal with the virus without painkillers helps it build “immunological memory.”
Experts advise against sending medical goods to India to help fight COVID-19. They instead recommend donating to established organizations in the country. Vikram Patel, professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, suggested giving to organizations that work with the millions of low-income and migrant workers in India that have lost their livelihoods in the pandemic, or to organizations that support people’s mental health.
Marcia Castro, Andelot Professor of Demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population, discussed some of the reasons why Brazil’s death toll from COVID-19 is so high. Brazilian president Jair Bolsanaro, like former U.S. President Donald Trump, denied the importance of the coronavirus and ignored science, she said. They would both hang out with people, shake hands, and not use masks, and both were against lockdowns. “It was a sequence of mistakes that accumulated and we end up with what we’re seeing now, many more deaths than we should see and hospitals … collapsed,” she said.
May 5: Americans will have increasingly have to make their own judgments about covid-19 risks (Washington Post)
Mask rules and other top-down restrictions are less necessary now that vaccines are winning the race against variants in the U.S., so people will need to increasingly assess COVID-19 risks on an individual basis, wrote Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, in this op-ed. He offered guidance on what activities are safe for those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t, and for kids.
May 5: The Dream: International Travel. The Reality: Chaos and Confusion. (New York Times)
The return of international leisure travel will be complicated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, say experts. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, noted that reopening areas to vaccinated tourists is a calculated risk. “My doomsday scenario is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission,” she said.
May 4: The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing. Here’s How to Get There. (New York Times)
Experts offered tips on how to boost overall well-being in the wake of the pandemic, such as savoring and celebrating small things, doing good deeds, and looking for communities and connection. “Flourishing really is what people are ultimately after,” noted Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology and director of Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program. The article also featured a quiz developed by VanderWeele to assess a person’s overall physical, mental and emotional well-being.
May 4: Do You Really Need Both Vaccine Doses? (Daily Caller)
With two-dose COVID-19 vaccines, the first shot provides baseline protection, but experts say the second shot is critical to strengthen and extend immunity. “The 2nd [dose] is the one that provides lasting protection,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “The second [shot] sets up the immune system to produce an army of trained cells ready to respond to the virus in the future.”
May 4: New home covid-19 tests give quick results could fuel frequent testing help limit virus spread (CBS This Morning)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, explained why rapid at-home COVID-19 tests are important during the pandemic, even among people who have already been vaccinated. “If I have been vaccinated already and I’m going to go into a nursing home or anywhere where people might still be vulnerable, it is best for me to take a test as long as it’s very accessible,” Mina said. “Testing in a pandemic is our eyes. If we don’t have testing, we don’t have eyes on the virus. We don’t know where it is.”
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that rapid at-home COVID-19 tests—finally available over the counter in the U.S.—are still too expensive at between $20 and $40, depending on the brand. “Currently, with the price tag, it is still a barrier for the poorest of Americans, or even just the non-wealthy,” said Mina. “Very few people will want to spend that kind of money on a regular basis. So it still is creating a barrier, where the wealthy and well-off are able to get tested and know if their kid is sick with COVID, and the poor are not. And that continues to be a major travesty.”
May 4: How should we try to persuade family and friends to get the coronavirus vaccine? (Cleveland.com)
Gillian SteelFisher, senior research scientist, said that the people who are most effective at convincing others to get vaccinated for COVID-19 have technical knowledge about vaccines—for example, doctors or other health care workers—and have a strong relationship with the person they’re trying to persuade.
May 3: Why Mental Health Matters for a Healthy Pregnancy: COVID-19 Survey (VeryWell Health)
Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, commented on a study she co-authored that found high levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and post-traumatic stress among pregnant and postpartum women during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know that maternal mental health, stress, and trauma affect fetal development,” said Koenen. She recommended that mental health be addressed in primary care appointments.
May 3: Kids Can’t Get The COVID-19 Vaccine Yet. How Much Of A Risk Do They Pose To The Rest Of Society? (FiveThirtyEight)
Even though experts some experts are now doubtful that the U.S. will reach full herd immunity to COVID-19, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that few infectious diseases ever become globally extinct. “We’ve only ever really eradicated smallpox and if it weren’t for a couple of further interventions beyond vaccines, even that could still be with us,” he said. “Most people who know anything about infectious disease don’t think total eradication is possible.” But the more people are vaccinated, the better the situation will be, he added. “We can likely get enough immunity in the population where the virus is not a major threat everywhere,” he said.
Experts are expressing concern that the U.S. won’t learn from the mistakes it made during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, while America is currently relying on its very effective vaccines to bring it out of the current pandemic, vaccines alone won’t be enough to fight future pandemics, they say. “We still need tests and treatments while the vaccine is being evaluated and manufactured, and in case the vaccines don’t work,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “I am not sure the U.S. has learned much at all—or what it even can learn given the federal nature of the country and the balkanized state of the health care system.”
May 3: COVID-19 a Seasonal Disease, Says Research; Infections Likely to Rise During Winters (Weather.com)
May 3: Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe (New York Times)
There is widespread consensus among experts that herd immunity to COVID-19 is not attainable in the foreseeable future, or perhaps ever. With highly contagious variants circulating, the herd immunity threshold—previously thought to be about 60% or 70% of the population—is now thought to be at least 80%, and may go even higher if other contagious variants develop or if it’s found that immunized people can still transmit the virus. “It is theoretically possible that we could get to about 90 percent vaccination coverage, but not super likely, I would say,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
May 3: As Covid-19 Testing Moves Center Stage, U.S. and U.K. Approaches Differ (Wall Street Journal)
As vaccination campaigns help tamp down COVID-19, faster and smarter testing will be needed to help keep the disease under control, say experts. Testing can help stave off new infections and help find variants, they say. “We’re entering into a new phase of this pandemic, and the role of testing and sequencing and all different modes of keeping an eye on the virus is certainly changing, in terms of what its role is in keeping the community safe and keeping a handle on this pandemic,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
May 1: Many Americans Anxious About Returning to ‘Normal’ After Pandemic (Voice of America)
Many people are looking forward to a return to normalcy as the pandemic is easing. But a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that roughly half of adults are uneasy about the transition back to in-person interactions. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that some people will “feel a loss because things are different.”
S.V. Subramanian, professor of population health and geography, quoted