Where we stand with the pandemic, one year in

Having three very effective vaccines puts the U.S. in a relatively good position in terms of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but the nation needs to get more vaccines into more people as quickly as possible, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s William Hanage.

In a wide-ranging interview on Vanity Fair’s “Inside the Hive” podcast, released on March 12, 2021, Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and a faculty member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discussed where the nation stands one year into the pandemic and what to expect in the months to come. He talked about topics including vaccines, variants, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and what he’s learned during the pandemic.

“We have multiple vaccines which are very good at preventing serious disease and hospitalization, but we’ve not necessarily managed to get those vaccines into enough people so that we can entirely relax,” said Hanage, noting that logistics and vaccine hesitancy remain hurdles. He noted that he would take any of the three vaccines currently available in the U.S. “They’re all very good at preventing the most severe outcomes, and that’s what we should all be looking out for,” he said.

Hanage called new CDC guidelines, which outline how vaccinated people can safely gather with others, “a cause for hope.” Noting that the CDC did not update its guidance on travel—it still discourages any nonessential trips—Hanage said he suspects the agency wants to limit the potential for travel to spread variants and to introduce the virus into communities that have not yet been exposed. “You don’t want to be encouraging people to take risky actions at a point when we could actually be within a few weeks, maybe a month, of getting serious control over this, and then taking the lid off the pot too quickly and everything just boiling over,” he said.

Asked if he learned anything unexpected about how humans behave during a pandemic, Hanage said, “I think most of us—meaning epidemiologists—expected that institutions would recognize, even if they didn’t want to at first, that a certain number of things were required in order to prevent the worst outcomes. But actually there was quite a high tolerance for an amount of hospitalizations and deaths.”

Listen to Vanity Fair’s “Inside the Hive” podcast: COVID a Year In: Where We Are and Where We’re Headed (Hanage interview begins at 24:25)