For the Harvard Chan community: Find the latest updates, guidance, useful information, and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) here.
In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories in which they offer comments and context:
January 7: Commentary: Why you can, and should, trust the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines (San Diego Union Tribune)
People’s confidence in COVID-19 vaccines can be enhanced by increasing public knowledge about how scientific peer review, regulation, and surveillance work together to ensure the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness, according to this op-ed co-authored by Victor DeGruttola, research professor of biostatistics.
January 7: Coronavirus Mutations Threaten to Worsen Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)
Two new variants of the coronavirus that are highly transmissible could amplify spread of the pandemic worldwide, complicate control efforts, and delay a return to normalcy, according to Harvard Chan School experts. Those quoted included Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, and Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health.
January 7: A Riot Amid a Pandemic: Did the Virus, Too, Storm the Capitol? (New York Times)
Some experts fear that the riot at the Capitol may turn out to have been a so-called super-spreading event for the coronavirus. Healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, noted that the risk for members of Congress will depend greatly on the ventilation in the room where they sheltered from the mob that invaded the building.
January 7: New COVID ‘Super Strains’ Could Disrupt Life Again (WebMD)
With a more contagious coronavirus variant circulating in the U.S., experts say that more aggressive action is needed to limit the virus’ spread and hasten vaccine distribution. “If we don’t change our control measures, once it [the new variant] becomes common, it will accelerate transmission considerably,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
January 7: A Slow Start To COVID-19 Vaccines Has The FDA Facing Calls To Change Shot Schedules (BuzzFeed News)
Some experts are calling for cutting doses of coronavirus vaccines in half or delaying second shots in order to more quickly vaccinate large numbers of people in the face of a dangerous virus variant spreading in the U.S. But experts at the Food and Drug Administration have opposed these ideas. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the FDA’s position reflects its role as a regulator, ensuring that medicines and supplements are safe and effective. “It’s a really interesting case where science as regulators see it, and science as public health in the broader sense sees it, might be sort of different,” he said.
January 7: Antigen Testing: Guest Post with Michael Mina (Parent Data blog)
In this interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the importance of antigen testing for the coronavirus. “If we are trying to slow the spread of the virus at the community level, we need a test that is frequent, simple and extremely accessible,” he said. “Rapid antigen tests can be the public health screening tool to slow the spread of the virus. … During peak infectiousness, the rapid antigen tests are essentially 100% sensitive.”
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that the U.S. should focus efforts on curtailing a rapidly spreading variant of the coronavirus called B.1.1.7, first seen in the U.K. “Anything we can do to delay the spread of this new variant virus will make control easier and will help us in the race to get more people vaccinated before this becomes more common,” he said.
January 6: Some States Put Residents 65 and Older Next in Line for COVID Vaccines (AARP)
In deciding between who to vaccinate first against the coronavirus—older Americans or essential workers —“health policy should as a first pass try to minimize the number of lives lost,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “My best understanding of the data is that the most lives would be saved by getting vaccines to 65 and over.”
January 6: Highly infectious coronavirus variant dampens prospects for summer return to normal (Harvard Gazette)
A more contagious variant of the coronavirus, originally detected in the U.K. and now spreading in the U.S., may mean that it takes longer to get back to normal life by the summer, according to experts. The variant, estimated to spread significantly faster than the original, “just makes this a much harder problem,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It’s certainly not good news.” He said that the spread of the new variant highlights the importance of swiftly rolling out vaccines and adhering to public health control measures such as masking and distancing. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said the emergence of the new variant means that a higher percentage of the nation’s population will need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.
January 5: Widespread Coronavirus Variant Expected to Make Pandemic ‘Much, Much More Deadly’ (Medium Coronavirus Blog)
A new highly transmissible coronavirus variant, initially detected in the U.K. and now spreading in the U.S. and elsewhere, is “probably more widespread than we think,” according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “It’s a big deal for a world that’s already stretched trying to control the old variant.”
January 5: Will the new COVID variant impact school reopening plans in the US? (Fox5 DC)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that even though a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus has begun circulating in the U.S., in-person learning should still be a priority. He stressed that schools should maintain strong mitigation efforts, including mandatory face masks, proper ventilation, hand washing, and as much outdoor time as possible, and that community spread of the virus should be kept to a minimum.
January 5: Frustration builds over slow pace of vaccine rollout (The Hill)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said the fact that only one-third of available coronavirus vaccines have been administered so far is “not so great.” He said that each state should move as quickly as possible through their priority lists of who should get vaccinated first.
January 5: FDA Says There Should Be No Changes to Recommended Vaccination Plan (AARP)
Experts say that any shortcuts to the recommended two-dose plan for administering coronavirus vaccines could be counterproductive to public health. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said, “What is the point of doing careful 500,000 person randomized controlled trials … only to say, ‘Forget about it, we’re going to give one shot and we’ll go find you at some later time. You’ll have enough immunity maybe to get through.’” Bloom said the main problem isn’t the number of shots available but rather their effective dissemination. He added that changing the dosing could result in people losing trust in the vaccines.
January 5: 5 Things Experts Say We Need Most To Handle The Next Pandemic Better (WBUR)
To deal with the next pandemic, experts recommend that we have a fully developed plan, an infrastructure for germ surveillance, adequate testing, more manufacturing capacity for pandemic-related supplies, and that we learn from this pandemic’s mistakes. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
January 5: Viral mutations may cause another ‘very, very bad’ COVID-19 wave, scientists warn (Science)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
January 5: Harvard disease expert calls more contagious coronavirus variant a ‘really big deal’ (Boston.com)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that there’s “good reason to expect” that a highly contagious coronavirus variant that has spread rapidly in the U.K. will spread elsewhere as well. He said the new variant “emphasizes the need for as rapid as possible vaccination. It also, in my view, means that we should focus our control efforts very much on that variant.”
January 5: Answering your questions about securing your second COVID-19 vaccine dose (WINK News)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that it’s not necessarily a bad thing if people experience delays in getting their second COVID-19 vaccine. “On biological grounds, there’s no reason to believe that a longer interval would make the second dose worse, it might even make it better” in terms of getting a good immune response, he said.
Logistical issues have slowed the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines, say experts. Exhausted hospital workers and public health officials are “being asked to ramp up the most ambitious vaccine program the country has ever seen,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health and former assistant secretary for health in the Obama administration. He added that although Congress allocated $8 billion for vaccine distribution, it’s not enough and it should have arrived months ago. He criticized the lack of federal leadership and the politicization of public health.
January 4: What vaccines mean for the return of travel (National Geographic)
Dean Michelle Williams quoted
January 4: Massachusetts Debuts Interactive COVID Dashboard, Confirms 375,000th Case (NBC Boston)
Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that the Massachusetts COVID-19 data dashboard “has a really great wealth of data that lots of other states don’t have.”
January 1: Why The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Has Gotten Off To A Slow Start (NPR)
One of the reasons for the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is that not enough funding has been provided to local health care workers responsible for vaccinating people, according to Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health. He said the new COVID relief bill will help “shore up a public health infrastructure that’s been hollowed out for far too long. But the public health systems at the state and local level need much more support going forward if we’re going to return to any sense of normal soon.”
January 1: SWFL hopes to control pandemic by continuing the vaccine rollout (Wink News)
Research fellow Stephen Kissler discussed the need to vaccinate roughly two-thirds of the population for the coronavirus to reach a high level of herd immunity. And with a new, more contagious strain of the virus circulating, he said, “The virus is a little bit more difficult to keep control of. And so it essentially means that more effort is going to be needed to, in essence, flatten this curve.”
December 31: Some healthcare workers refuse to take COVID-19 vaccine, even with priority access (Los Angeles Times)
Lower-than-expected percentages of health care workers have been opting to take the coronavirus vaccine, raising concerns among epidemiologists. If too few people are vaccinated, the pandemic could stretch on indefinitely, they say. “Our ability as a society to get back to a higher level of functioning depends on having as many people protected as possible,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.
December 31: What To Know About The Coronavirus Variant From The U.K. (WBUR)
With a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus likely spreading in the U.S., William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “I think that we need to redouble our efforts restricting the transmission of the virus.” He added, “There’s good reason to be optimistic about the efficacy of the vaccines against the variant.”
December 31: What We Learned About COVID-19 In 2020 (WBUR)
Discussing the future of pandemic strategy, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that “we should have a strategy and a plan for any kind of pandemic that can come about, so that should we find ourselves in a position again with a president like the one we currently have, we don’t have to rely on the current administration to come up with a whole new plan.” He also stressed the importance of having testing capacity in place ahead of time. “We should be treating this like a Department of Defense project,” he said. “We should just have bunkers of laboratories. We should have factories that could make these [tests] in the millions and flip those switches within weeks.” William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that we need to “learn from mistakes, because we have made a lot of mistakes,” and called for a global effort at pandemic preparedness.
December 30: Yes, the new variant of coronavirus is alarming. But kids should stay in school. (Washington Post)
In this op-ed, Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science, argued that in spite of a new highly contagious variant of coronavirus, children should still go to in-person school. He noted that children are much less likely to get sick from COVID-19 than adults, and that known strategies—masks, hand-washing, and enhanced ventilation and filtration—can limit viral spread in schools.
December 30: The Virus Mutates and the Balance of Power Changes (Follow the Science)
In this podcast, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, talked with host Faye Flam about scientific detective work that tells where the new mutant variants of the coronavirus are coming from, where they’re going, and what they mean for humans.
December 30: Discovery of Virus Variant in Colorado and California Alarms Scientists (New York Times)
Experts say that the presence of a highly contagious coronavirus variant in the U.S. will affect virtually every aspect of the response, including hospital treatment, community lockdowns, and school closures. “The overall picture is pretty grim,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. He added, “This variant was not stopped by the stronger interventions that were put in place in the U.K. in November. And that means that we need more.”
December 30: Colorado may have a second case of the more contagious virus variant (New York Times)
After a suspected second case of a highly contagious coronavirus variant was found in Colorado, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said, “There’s no reason to that that that community is particularly special in any way. It’s completely reasonable to think it’s in a lot of other places, but we just haven’t looked for it yet.”
December 30: 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine important step in return to normalcy (Wink News)
Experts say that even after a second dose of the coronavirus vaccine, people shouldn’t expect an immediate return to normalcy. Said research fellow Stephen Kissler, “It takes on the order of a week or two before your body can mount that immune response that makes it a little safer to see others.”
December 30: Shots are slow to reach arms as Trump administration leaves final steps of mass vaccination to beleaguered states (Washington Post)
The U.S. coronavirus vaccination campaign has gotten off to a slow start, sometimes marked by chaos and confusion. One problem is that vaccine distribution has been left to hollowed-out county and municipal health departments and hospital systems dealing with a surge of COVID-19 patients. “The most ambitious vaccination effort in modern history involves delivering millions of doses to millions of people in a timely fashion,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership and an assistant health secretary in the Obama administration. “It requires a one-government approach more than ever before, especially when that government is in the midst of a transition.”
December 30: Highly contagious new virus strain increases pressure to speed up the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations (Boston Globe)
The discovery of a more contagious strain of the coronavirus in the U.S. heightens the urgency of ramping up the nation’s vaccine rollout, say experts. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that a dearth of genomic tracking may have left the mutant strain invisible in most of the country. “If it’s more transmissible, we need to deny it the opportunity to transmit and make things so much worse than they are,” he said.
December 29: Pandemic Regrets? Experts Have a Few (Bloomberg)
In U.S. efforts to contain COVID-19, lockdowns have been too blunt and testing has been too slow, say experts. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said of testing in the U.S., “We’re getting almost no effectiveness from a public health standpoint. Our contact tracing and testing program is failing before our eyes.” Mina has been advocating for regular testing with easy, rapid tests.
December 29: First U.S. Case of Highly Contagious Coronavirus Variant Is Found in Colorado (New York Times)
Although the first case of a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus was discovered on December 29 in the U.S., experts say it may have been circulating for a while. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that the newly reported case “should not be cause for panic” but added that “it is cause to redouble our efforts at preventing the virus from getting the opportunity to spread.”
December 29: You’re Infected With the Coronavirus. But How Infected? (New York Times)
Knowing a COVID-19 patient’s viral load may help predict how sick someone might get, according to research. This month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suggested that clinical labs report not just whether a person is infected, but how much virus is in their body. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, called the FDA’s move “very important,” adding, “I think it’s a step in the right direction to making the most use of one of the only pieces of data we have for many positive individuals.” James Hay, postdoctoral researcher, said that an uptick in the average viral load throughout communities could indicate an epidemic on the rise. “We can get an idea of whether the epidemic is growing or declining, without relying on case counts,” he said.
December 28: How to bring USA back to health in 2021 (CNN)
Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, co-authored this opinion piece calling for more recognition, support, and resources for overstretched public health professionals as they help orchestrate COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
Vaccine hesitancy among Black Americans is fueled by a long history of systemic racism and fears about safety due to the speed of vaccine development, experts say. Jarvis Chen, lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, noted that issues with distributing the vaccine and who should get it first “are really controversial and contentious. There has been some…debate on whether we should be targeting vaccines by race/ethnicity. On one hand, communities of color have been disproportionately affected. On the other hand, there’s a lot of discomfort and a lack of trust.”
December 28: Number of Americans Willing to Get COVID-19 Vaccine Continues to Rise (HealthDay)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, said that a more infectious variant of the coronavirus that is currently circulating is unlikely to undermine the U.S. vaccination campaign. “The vaccine is a pretty thorough thing,” he said. “Whether or not the existing vaccines are less effective against B.1.1.7 [the variant] is at the moment not known. I think there is good reason to think they will not be severely impacted.”
December 28: Explainer: What will Covid-19 vaccines achieve? And how much of the population needs to be vaccinated? (South China Morning Post)
Experts say it won’t be known what level of herd immunity will be necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus until it becomes clear how effective vaccination is at stopping transmission. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
December 27: How To Stop The Pandemic (The Dive)
On this podcast, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed his strategy to stop the pandemic by using easy-to-produce, easy-to-use, inexpensive, and rapid paper strip tests.
December 26: Possibility of one-dose vaccine raises hopes for faster rollout (The Hill)
Using a single dose of the currently available coronavirus vaccines would be somewhat less protective than two doses but could still save lives, some experts think. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, has called for new trials to study how protective one dose would be. “Even if it’s slightly inferior, from a public health perspective it might be superior,” he said, because if it could be used on twice as many people it would help reduce the spread of the virus more quickly.
December 26: Why two doses of the new COVID-19 vaccines are better than one (Popular Science)
Some experts think that one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccines may be nearly as effective as the recommended two doses, and have suggested offering people one dose in order to make the limited supply of vaccines go further. But others are wary of this idea because of the lack of hard evidence. “We don’t know anything about how long or how strong the immune response would be from a single [Pfizer or Moderna] vaccine,” said Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, recommended gathering evidence from a clinical trial before making any dose changes.
December 24: How Worried Should We Be About The New U.K. Coronavirus Variant? (NPR)
Scientists estimate that new coronavirus variant circulating in England may be roughly 50% more transmissible than other strains. Policymakers should take the new variant seriously because if it is indeed 50% more transmissible, it will be difficult to stop its spread, said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
December 24: How Much Herd Immunity Is Enough? (New York Times)
Although experts initially estimated that 60%–70% of the population would need to acquire resistance to the coronavirus to stop its spread, they’re now shifting their estimate to 85% or even higher, although they say that all of the numbers are “guesstimates.” Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, noted that the virus can be slowed even before 85% or higher herd immunity is reached. “We don’t have to have zero transmission in order to have a decent society,” he said. “We have lots of disease, like flu, transmitting all the time, and we don’t shut down society for that. If we can vaccinate almost all of the people who are most at risk of severe outcomes, then this would become a milder disease.”
December 24: Fact check: No, the COVID-19 vaccines don’t have ‘toxins’ (WRAL, Raleigh, N.C.)
A Facebook post attributed to an alternative medical doctor made several misleading claims about the new coronavirus vaccines, according to experts. The post listed ingredients in the vaccines that they don’t contain. Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, Lee Kum Kee Professor of Health Communication, said that the post uses common anti-vaccine tactics, such as using what he calls “scientistic” language and claiming that it comes from a credible source. “This kind of tactic to list ingredients that may or may not be there is not new,” he said. “Anti-vaccine groups have always used a list of ingredients even after ingredients have been eliminated from vaccines. They misinterpret and distort scientific data to advance their agenda.”
December 24: ‘Trusted Messengers, Trusted Messages’: How To Overcome Vaccine Hesitancy (NPR)
Enlisting respected and well-known leaders to help explain health messages about COVID-19 is the right way to disarm and persuade skeptics, according to public health experts. Said Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus, “Waving journal studies and talking points won’t work in many communities,” particularly in ethnic and racial communities “that have a history of being demonized, lied to, or exploited in the U.S. when it comes to their health.”
December 24: Where COVID-19 spreads most easily, according to experts (ABC News)
Small indoor gatherings and households are where the coronavirus is spreading fastest, according to data. Eating in restaurants or bars has also been linked with the spread of the virus. Said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, “Since you have a restaurant with many people who are talking loudly [with] masks off, that leads to higher emission rates of respiratory aerosols, and, depending on how the ventilation system is working in the restaurant, determines how many infectious aerosols people are breathing.” What drives high transmission rates in both homes and restaurants, he said, is “time indoors, no masks, low or no ventilation.”
December 23: Coronavirus Variant Is Indeed More Transmissible, New Study Suggests (New York Times)
A preliminary study estimated that a new variant of the coronavirus is 56% more contagious than other strains, but also found no evidence that the variant is more deadly than others. Said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, “Does this matter? Yes. Is there evidence for increased transmission? Yes. Is this going to impact the next few months? Yes.” Given the findings, he said, “You need to be able to get whatever barriers to transmission you can out there as soon as possible.”
December 23: Should you worry about side effects of COVID-19 vaccines? (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Reported side effects of COVID-19 vaccines include fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, and warmth or swelling around the injection site, and, in rare cases, allergic reactions and Bell’s palsy, a temporary facial paralysis. Symptoms are evidence that the body is mounting a strong immune response, according to Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. “A reaction at the site of injection is a good thing, reflecting an immediate response to a foreign material that will ultimately enhance the immune response,” he said.
December 23: The World’s Most Loathed Industry Gave Us a Vaccine in Record Time (Bloomberg Businessweek)
The U.S. effort to speed the development of coronavirus vaccines has been remarkably successful, but other efforts to slow the spread of the virus have fallen short. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, thinks that if cheap, plentiful, rapid tests—similar to home pregnancy tests—had been developed months ago, they could have been crucial in stopping the pandemic. “The only way to deal with a virus like this appropriately is to try and identify people who are infectious,” said Mina, adding, “We make more bags of Doritos than I’m asking for. These are paper strips that get cut from one big piece of paper.”
December 23: New variant of COVID-19 in Europe (NewsWest9, Midland, Texas)
Commenting on a new variant of COVID-19 that appears to be even more contagious, William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that the new strain has a larger-than-expected number of mutations. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that no one knows yet if the current coronavirus vaccines can neutralize the variant, although early studies suggest that it will. He added that if vaccines are not effective enough against the variant, companies would be able to relatively quickly produce an updated vaccine.
December 23: In pandemic America’s tent cities, a grim future grows darker (Reuters)
Homeless people are among those most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and their ranks could grow as the pandemic destroys jobs and threatens a wave of evictions, say experts. “Addressing homelessness remains the most pressing health equity challenge of our time,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, who chairs an initiative on health and homelessness. “And it’s about to get worse.”
December 23: Covid-19 vaccines are safe. But let’s be clear about what ‘safe’ means (STAT)
In this op-ed, Dean Michelle Williams and Wayne Koff, president and CEO of the Human Vaccines Project and an adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology, wrote that while the coronavirus vaccines are safe, they also have side effects, and “it is the responsibility of medical professionals to be honest about them so people are prepared and more likely to trust the science.”
December 22: What to Know About Allergic Reactions to COVID-19 Vaccines (AARP)
Side effects from any vaccine are common, and are a result of inflammation that’s part of the body’s immune response, according to Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health. He said that after receiving one of the current COVID-19 vaccines, a person may have “a transient feeling like you have the flu, you feel lousy pain in the arm, fatigue, sometimes muscle pain.”
December 22: Is Your State Doing Enough Coronavirus Testing? Use Our Tool To Find Out (NPR)
An analysis by researchers at Harvard Chan School and Brown University found that the U.S. is getting close to doing enough coronavirus testing to identify most people reporting symptoms and at least two of their close contacts—roughly 2 million tests per day. But about three times that amount would be needed to screen key groups of asymptomatic people, such as college students and teachers, to stop outbreaks from growing, the analysis found. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, who helped conduct the testing analysis, said, “What we need is a jump-start of our testing if we want to actually move to an offensive strategy around active screening of our asymptomatic individuals.”
December 21: AP-NORC poll: Virus-weary Americans less festive this year (ABC News)
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the teetering economy, some Americans are feeling sadder, lonelier, and less grateful than last year, according to a poll. Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, said that “people are feeling really, really worn down because this has been going on for so long.” She noted that focusing on gratitude and finding ways to help others can reduce anxiety.
December 21: The ‘Covidization’ Of Science (WBUR’s “On Point”)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that the pandemic has highlighted the importance of scientists talking to the press and collaborating with policymakers and people in industry. “This has showed me how important it is not to be insulated in the academic environment, and to reach out and be friends with the broader community outside of academia,” he said. “It can only benefit science, I think.”
December 21: Should People Who Have Had Covid-19 Wait to Get a Vaccine? (Wall Street Journal)
Prioritizing vaccines for people who have never been infected with COVID-19 could help communities develop herd immunity faster, some experts say. But it’s not clear how long natural immunity lasts in those who’ve already had the disease, and screening those people out of early vaccination could pose logistical issues. In addition, there could be serious equity considerations, according to Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics—because initially limiting vaccine access to those who haven’t had the virus could exclude people in groups that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
December 21: After Rubio, other lawmakers get early vaccines, many ask why (Tampa Bay Times)
With a limited supply of coronavirus vaccines available, some have criticized lawmakers for getting early vaccinations. Said Karen Emmons, professor of social and behavioral sciences, “Anytime you have a situation of scarcity, you’re going to have these complex questions.” She said that Americans are primed for the vaccine distribution process to be unfair, noting that that she’s heard from people who assume that people with money or power will be able to jump to the front of the line.
December 21: We asked health experts to debunk 5 common coronavirus myths. Here’s what they said. (NJ.com)
Research fellow Stephen Kissler noted that while the estimated COVID-19 fatality rate across all age groups may sound low—0.6% to 0.9%—“if you multiple it by millions of people, you end up with a very, very large number of deaths.” He also addressed the claim that the reason more people are testing positive for COVID-19 is simply that more people are being tested. He said that if the coronavirus was getting under control, as testing grew, the percentage of positive tests would fall—but instead, it’s been climbing. Hospitalizations and the number of people in intensive care and on ventilators have also spiked. “The important thing is to pay attention to all of the statistics,” he said. “It is pretty clear to me that cases are going up and going up in a big way and that can’t be attributed to testing anymore.” He added that although young people are generally less vulnerable to the virus, they can easily pass it onto their more vulnerable relatives. “We all have responsibility to protect not only ourselves, but also those around us,” he said.
December 20: Mutant coronavirus in the United Kingdom sets off alarms, but its importance remains unclear (Science)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that a new variant may be circulating in more countries than are currently known. Experts are concerned that the variant may have made the virus more infectious.
December 19: New science reevaluates risks of indoor dining (Boston Globe)
Experts say the science is clear that eating in restaurants is linked with increased risk of coronavirus transmission. “Uncovered, especially open mouths, loud talking, and proximity and poor ventilation are all contributors to coronavirus transmission,” said Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. “Whether it’s a restaurant, or a gym, or a house of worship, or a room you go into with your best friends and yodel…it’s just that certain activities spread the virus more effectively.”
December 18: America is finally about to get a lot more coronavirus tests. The question now: How best to use them? (Washington Post)
Many more coronavirus tests are about to hit the market, but there still won’t be access to rapid at-home antigen tests that people can take on a daily basis—which Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, has been pushing for months. Mina and more than 50 other infectious disease experts sent a letter to Congress on December 15 arguing for $10 billion in federal funds to widely distribute these inexpensive rapid tests across the U.S.
December 18: Have COVID-19 vaccine questions? Harvard infectious disease experts provide some answers (KHOU 11 News)
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said he’s confident in the safety of the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, estimated that there won’t be a significant effect on COVID-19 transmission until roughly 50% of the population has been vaccinated.
December 18: Michael Mina: Rapid Testing, Viruses, and the Engineering Mindset (Lex Fridman Podcast)
In this wide-ranging interview, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed topics including possible COVID-19 mutations, PCR vs. rapid antigen testing, the role of testing during vaccine deployment, and a virus prediction system.
December 18: Can We Do Twice as Many Vaccinations as We Thought? (New York Times)
Both the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines are supposed to be administered in two doses, but data suggests that even one dose could be highly protective. “If that’s shown to be the case, this would be a game changer, allowing us to vaccinate up to twice the number of people and greatly alleviating the suffering not just in the United States, but also in countries where vaccine shortages may take years to resolve,” according to this op-ed co-authored by Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology. The op-ed called for scientists to quickly begin single-dose vaccine trials.
December 17: Deaths From COVID-19 (JAMA Network)
Containing the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 Americans and is surging to become the leading cause of death in the U.S., will require an “unprecedented” national response, according to this editorial co-authored by Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, Alan Geller, senior lecturer on social and behavioral sciences, and Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology.
December 17: COVID-19 Vaccines and Herd Immunity (Conversations with Dr. Bauchner/JAMA Network)
In this video interview, Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, and Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, discuss the timeline and prospects for herd immunity and return to a new normal, now that coronavirus vaccines are available.
December 17: A dark year of sickness, reckoning, loss — and periodic bits of light (Harvard Gazette)
Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were among 10 faculty members from across Harvard offering their thoughts on the tumultuous past 12 months.
December 17: Our favorite Washington Post op-eds of 2020 (Washington Post)
An op-ed by Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, on the importance of considering airborne transmission of the coronavirus, was one of the Washington Post’s picks of its favorite op-eds from 2020.
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, commented on an FDA advisory committee’s consideration of a COVID-19 vaccine from Moderna, just one week after considering a similar vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech. “It’s a very exciting two weeks,” said Bloom. “To have two companies put forward new vaccines within 11 months and begin to roll them out to the public—that’s an extraordinary both scientific and logistical achievement.”
December 17: Experts warn of ‘COVID fatigue’ (Gloucester Daily Times)
Experts say it’s important to maintain COVID-19 restrictions to prevent further spread of the virus, even with the rollout of vaccines. “We need to keep our guard up and continue to be vigilant,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership. “The nation is drowning in rising pools of infection, and prevention is the only way to turn off the faucet.”
December 16: Sifting Through COVID Vaccine Misinformation (NBC Boston)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, said that he thinks “people should be, at the very least, open minded about getting the vaccine,” in spite of rampant misinformation about the vaccines on social media.
December 16: How mass rapid tests could help curb the pandemic (Axios)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that if just half the U.S. population were able to test themselves for the coronavirus every four days with rapid at-home antigen tests, the country could quickly curb the spread of disease because people would know when they were contagious. “Scale these tests up, get these into everyone’s home, put these at the door of a restaurant, put these at the door of a gym,” Mina said. “We change the balance.”
December 16: Vaccination push for frontline workers in Massachusetts (WCVB)
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, quoted
December 16: A top scientist questioned virus lockdowns on Fox News. The backlash was fierce. (Washington Post)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was one of a number of experts who disagreed with Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis’ skepticism about the lethality of the coronavirus and the necessity of shutdowns.
December 15: FDA Authorizes 1st Home Coronavirus Test That Doesn’t Require A Prescription (NPR)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that a newly available coronavirus test that can be taken at home “will be a game-changer…to help people quickly identify if their symptoms are due to COVID. But from the perspective of truly stopping or massively slowing this pandemic, this test isn’t designed for that.” Mina has been pushing for the FDA to approve even simpler and less expensive at-home tests.
Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, quoted
December 15: Public Information Lacking Amid COVID Vaccine Push (WebMD)
Experts are worried about rampant misinformation about coronavirus vaccines. They note that, on social media, credible information about vaccines is significantly outcompeted by misinformation. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that he’s banking on the creativity and savvy of private groups like the Ad Council to help convince the public that coronavirus vaccines are safe and effective.
December 15: Rapid at-home coronavirus testing kits (Spectrum News)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the importance of using rapid at-home coronavirus tests.
December 15: Biden will arrive in office amid a pandemic. It will be his biggest challenge — but also an opportunity. (Washington Post)
One of President-elect Joe Biden’s challenges will be ensuring that people on both sides of the political divide are receptive to being vaccinated, according to health policy experts. Biden’s success in this effort will have implications for his broader agenda to expand health coverage and access to affordable care, according to Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, Emeritus.
Ashish Jha, adjunct professor of global health and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, urged Americans to continue taking precautions against COVID-19—wearing masks and keeping distanced from others—to save lives until vaccines become widely available. And Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, urged the government to do more to contain surging infections. “We should be treating it [the pandemic] with the urgency of a bomb killing 1000s of Americans every day,” he said.
December 14: Forecasting the next COVID-19 (Discovery: Research at Princeton.)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed an idea he developed with colleagues from Princeton and elsewhere to create a Global Immunological Observatory—a system to monitor the world’s health by compiling data in a systematic and cohesive way, in order to make predicting disease as commonplace as predicting the weather.
December 14: Why the astonishing vaccine rollout broke the speed record (CNN)
In this op-ed, Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, wrote that he is confident in the safety and effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines because they underwent rigorous independent scientific reviews and because the race for the vaccines “has been a longer one than people think—more like a marathon than a sprint.”
December 14: The Ethics of Continuing Placebo in SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine Trials (JAMA Network)
This Viewpoint article, co-authored by Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, argues that, given the expected limited supply of coronavirus vaccines for at least several months, only vaccine trial participants receiving placebo who would be eligible for vaccination outside the trial should be offered access to the vaccines at this point. The authors said that offering vaccines early to those in the placebo group would result in a major loss of valuable research data. They also argued that offering members of the placebo group vaccines would mean that thousands of people in priority groups would have to wait longer to be vaccinated, possibly lessening both health and health equity gains.
December 14: Psychologist On Why Funerals Are Fundamental To Processing Grief (NPR)
In an interview with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, research associate Christy Denckla, a clinical psychologist specializing in grief, said it’s crucial for people to connect after the death of a loved one, even if they can’t do it in person because of COVID-19 restrictions. “We must connect,” she said. “And this can be done virtually. It can be done by phone calls. It can be done through social media. The bereavement community has mounted a formidable response to provide online support services for people who are facing grief.”
December 14: Can You Get a Covid Test at Home? (Wall Street Journal)
Widespread use of at-home tests for COVID-19 is likely months away, according to experts. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, was quoted.
December 14: COVID-19 becomes 4th-leading killer of Ohioans (Highland County Press)
Commenting on the fact that COVID-19 has become a leading cause of death in the U.S., Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said, “It’s devastating. We have this preventable disease that we could have prevented from spreading.”
December 14: How Science Beat the Virus (The Atlantic)
December 14: Officials confront challenges to get public to take COVID vaccine (ABC News)
Dean Michelle Williams spoke about the high levels of vaccine skepticism among communities of color—stemming from years of social inequity and medical mistreatment—and noted that it’s vital to promote vaccine uptake among these groups because they’ve been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.
December 13: Why These Two Epidemiologists Stopped Working On COVID-19 Research (NPR)
Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, moved her entire research team to work on COVID-19 last spring, to focus on mapping how the virus was spreading and what could slow it. But she became disillusioned with the interaction between science and policymaking and eventually decided to end the research. “We were continuing to push for testing, for improved surveillance,” she said. “And it seemed as if the policies didn’t reflect what we were trying to say. It felt to me as if the expert voices, especially women and scientists of color, just were not being listened to.”
December 13: Can CRISPR-Based Covid-19 Testing Using Smartphones Slow The Pandemic? (Forbes)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said that CRISPR-based COVID-19 testing using smartphones holds tremendous promise. One new study found that a CRISPR procedure could directly detect SARS-CoV-2 from nasal swab RNA that can be read by converting a cellphone camera into a specialized microscope, with results generated in minutes.
December 11: US enters brutal stretch of pandemic, even with approaching vaccines (The Hill)
With COVID-19 deaths now topping 3,000 every day, 200,000 new cases every day, and more than 100,000 hospitalized, public health experts say the U.S. is about to enter the toughest phase of the pandemic. “We are seeing an unfolding disaster,” said Yonatan Grad, Melvin J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “I think it’s challenging in the extreme right now and it’s going to get worse.”
December 11: Harvard expert: We are over-cleaning surfaces, practicing ‘hygiene theater’ (Boston Herald)
In fighting COVID-19, too much time and money is being spent on cleaning surfaces, according to Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. He said that people should be paying more attention to measures such as mask-wearing and ventilation, because the virus spreads mostly through airborne transmission.
December 11: The Busiest Travel Days For Christmas 2020 Will Have You Rethinking Holiday Plans (Elite Daily)
Experts advise against any non-essential travel during the holidays. For those who must travel, preparedness fellow Rachel Piltch-Loeb suggested doing so in off-peak times, wearing a mask, distancing when possible, and sanitizing your hands and airplane seat.
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, talked about how paper-strip antigen tests that can be taken at home, at schools, or even at the front door of a restaurant, could help significantly slow the spread of the coronavirus.
December 11: The Year of Covid. And (Hopefully) the Year of Easy, Home-Based Testing (Wall Street Journal)
In this op-ed, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, argued that inexpensive home-based COVID-19 tests, if made widely available, could help curb the spread of the pandemic as people wait their turn to get vaccinated. Fixing the testing backlog “won’t just save lives in the months ahead,” he wrote. “It also will help bring about long-term changes in health care—by putting more power into the hands of patients and boosting public health by helping curb the spread of a range of diseases.”
December 11: We are over-cleaning in response to covid-19 (Washington Post)
“We don’t have a single documented case of covid-19 transmission from surfaces. Not one,” according to this opinion piece co-authored by Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program. “So why, then, are we spending a small fortune to deep clean our offices, schools, subways and buses?” Allen and his co-authors wrote, “The reality is that the novel coronavirus spreads mainly through the air. Especially with regular hand-washing, there’s no need to constantly disinfect surfaces.”
December 11: FDA Panel Endorses Covid-19 Vaccine (Wall Street Journal)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, said that “the efficacy is overwhelming” for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
December 11: I Tested Positive for Covid-19. What Does That Really Mean? (WIRED)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed the nuances of COVID-19 testing.
December 10: How pandemic set back efforts to fight other deadly global health problems (Harvard Gazette)
In a Q&A, Dean Michelle Williams outlined how the Biden administration can help bolster global health efforts hurt by the pandemic.
December 10: Fauci says herd immunity possible by fall, ‘normality’ by end of 2021 (Harvard Gazette)
If 70%–80% of Americans are willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. could potentially reach herd immunity by the end of next year, said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at part 6 of the online series “When Public Health Means Business.” Fauci was introduced by Dean Michelle Williams, who said that the level of noncompliance with public health measures makes her wonder if the nation has become numb to all the illness and death, and worry that not enough people will get vaccinated.
December 10: 2020 Bostonians of the Year: The Front Line (Boston Globe)
Galit Alter, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and a professor at Harvard Medical School, and Ashish Jha, adjunct professor of global health and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, were both named among the Boston Globe’s 2020 Bostonians of the Year for their efforts during the pandemic. Alter was chosen for encouraging other researchers to share their work, and Jha was chosen for publicly speaking out with reliable information.
December 9: How to get yourself a vaccination (CNN)
Experts say it’s not yet clear how to make an appointment to get a coronavirus vaccine. “The infrastructure to physically go in and sign up has not really been built, and the protocol hasn’t really been ironed out,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology.
December 9: FDA committee voting on emergency use authorization for Pfizer vaccine Thursday includes top Boston doctors (Boston Herald)
Eric Rubin, adjunct professor of immunology and infectious diseases, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee, quoted
December 9: All Your Holiday Air Travel Questions, Answered (Conde Nast Traveler)
Experts advise against flying this holiday season during the pandemic. But for those who choose to travel, they recommend measures such as washing and/or sanitizing your hands frequently and avoiding eating and drinking if possible. “If you are going to eat or drink, ensure that others around you are wearing their masks; remove your mask for as little time as possible, and, if possible, use a straw,” said Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative.
December 9: What You Need to Know About Getting Tested for Coronavirus (New York Times)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, commented on the benefits of rapid antigen tests, noting that they work best when given several times a week. He said, “It tells you, am I risk to my family right now? Am I spreading the virus right now?” He cautioned that “if the test is negative, it doesn’t tell you if you’re infectious tomorrow or if you were infectious last week.”
December 9: Fauci: Life could go back to normal by the end of next year with coronavirus vaccine (Boston Herald)
Article features Harvard Chan School event featuring Anthony Fauci and Sanjay Gupta
December 9: How to End This Pandemic, and Prepare for the Next One (New York Times)
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said he thinks that people who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 should be the first to get vaccines. He also thinks that COVID-19 may never disappear, even with vaccines. “Viral infections this widespread don’t disappear on their own that I’m aware of, unless they’re out-competed by some new strain,” he said, noting that COVID-19 could become a seasonal disease like the flu.
December 9: Intensive Care Beds Are Nearing Capacity Across the Country, New Data Shows (New York Times)
More than a third of Americans live in areas where hospitals are running dangerously low on intensive care beds, and one in 10 Americans live in areas where I.C.U beds are either completely full, or fewer than 5% of beds are available, according to federal data. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said that amid such constrained resources, health care workers could be forced to make difficult decisions about who receives care.
December 8: To Control COVID, Biden Needs to Marshal Federal Resources—and Change Attitudes (Scientific American)
With the incoming Biden administration making plans to fight COVID-19 on a number of fronts, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, says he would like to see the administration work with companies to develop and produce millions of rapid at-home antigen tests for COVID-19.
States are working feverishly to prepare for the largest mass vaccination campaign ever attempted in the U.S. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, called the undertaking historic. “This is just a breathtaking scientific and public health effort,” he said.
December 8: Contact-Tracing Apps Flop in the US (Tech News World)
Americans appear to have little interest in using smartphone contact-tracing applications that could help reduce COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to news reports. Andrew Chan, professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that one problem is that there are a lot of different apps. “You have a very fragmented approach to the use of apps in different parts of the country,” he said. “This fragmentation has resulted in no one approach being predominant, which makes it a challenge for these apps to identify people with COVID and their contacts.”
December 7: PFAS Chemical Associated With Severe COVID-19 (The Intercept)
A preprint study led by Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health, found that COVID-19 patients with elevated levels of a chemical called PFBA were more than twice as likely to have a severe form of the disease as those without elevated levels. PFBA is in a class of widely used industrial compounds called PFASs that are often called “forever chemicals” because they remain in soil, water, food, and in humans for long periods of time and have been linked with a variety of health problems.
December 7: The Loneliness Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)
Three Harvard Chan School experts—Jeremy Nobel, lecturer on global health and social medicine in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology, and Tyler VanderWeele, John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Epidemiology—discussed the psychology and social costs of loneliness, and how COVID-19 has impacted it.
December 7: In It Together 12/7/2020 (WBGH)
In an interview with WGBH’s Arun Rath, Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, discussed how hospitals are handling the coronavirus pandemic and the logistics of rolling out a coronavirus vaccine. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed the latest surge in cases and what to make of COVID-19 statistics.
December 7: Will Congress Fix the Testing Debacle? (Harvard Magazine)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed his efforts to gain government approval for rapid at-home COVID-19 tests, which he says could effectively break chains of transmission.
December 7: With few COVID-19 restrictions, personal responsibility takes center stage in the pandemic response (Boston Globe)
Many public officials around the country are trying to avoid strict measures to curb the coronavirus, instead pleading for people to take personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe. But public health experts disagree with that strategy. “Yes, people have to take responsibility for their decisions, but you have to give people an environment in which the decisions that are good for them aren’t so hard,” said Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. “It’s part of public health to use regulatory measures and they are sometimes necessary.”
Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was among a number of experts praising the choice of Rochelle Walensky, MPH ’01, as the head of the Centers for Disease Control in the incoming Biden administration. “I think she’s someone who inspires confidence and who has the competence to back it up,” he said.
December 7: Ask PolitiFact: Do you have to get the vaccine if you’ve had COVID-19? (PolitiFact)
People who already had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated because vaccines will provide stronger and probably longer-lasting immunity, according to experts. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, was quoted.
Health care workers are not routinely tested for COVID-19 unless they’re symptomatic or have a known exposure to the coronavirus—even if their job is to treat COVID-19 patients. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, said, “It continues to amaze me that we are not doing this.” He noted that even if health care workers wear protective gear, at some point they have to take off their masks to eat lunch—and if they unknowingly have COVID-19, they could spread it to vulnerable people around them.
December 7: Are Cities a Safe Place to Live During a Pandemic? (New York Times)
Experts say that just because cities are dense doesn’t mean they’re unsafe during the pandemic—that, in fact, people’s behavior is more important than location. The more people stick to measures such as mask wearing and social distancing, the less the virus will spread, they say. Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, noted that people in cities may have more incentive to follow public health guidelines because they live among so many other people who may or may not be following the rules.
Some experts fear that people will try to steal or smuggle coronavirus vaccines, or create counterfeits. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, noted that some low-risk but well-connected people may try to jump ahead in line.
December 7: The Problem With the Positivity Rate (New York Magazine)
A high positivity rate—the percentage of positive coronavirus tests among all tests performed—is not necessarily an accurate indicator of how much the virus is spreading in a particular community, according to experts. In the absence of community-wide random testing and other data, “the test positivity statistic is almost meaningless,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
December 7: hospitalizations & deaths surge (njtoday.net)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and others praised President-elect Joe Biden’s choice of Rochelle Walensky, MPH ’01, as head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We are going to be in good hands!” Mina tweeted. “If you know Rochelle, you know how much better 2021 will be for the US #COVID19 response.”
December 6: Skip the Useless Covid-19 Rules, Please (Bloomberg)
Some pandemic rules are unnecessary, say experts. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that one-way aisles in grocery stores aren’t needed. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, questioned a recent Massachusetts requirement that people wear face masks outdoors at all times. He added that people don’t need more rules; instead, they need more information about how the coronavirus is transmitted so they can take steps to avoid it.
December 6: One Million New Covid-19 Cases Added To U.S. Total In Just 5 Days (Forbes)
The rapid surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. “is a national tragedy that is simultaneously beyond belief and extraordinarily foreseeable,” said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, who has long advocated for widespread rapid at-home tests to quell outbreaks. He added, “We do have the tools to begin to combat the virus today—but I do not expect we will use them. …I expect we will continue to see a million or more new cases every single week for a while now—a national travesty.”
December 6: Will the US ever have a national COVID-19 testing strategy? (AP)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, quoted
December 6: What vaccination rates in rural America tell us about the advent of COVID-19 vaccines (USA Today)
Flu vaccination rates in rural areas of the U.S. are significantly lower than rates in other parts of the country—suggesting that COVID-19 vaccine uptake in these areas may also be low. But getting the vaccine to these areas is crucial, say experts. “Ensuring vaccine coverage of rural communities is an essential part of the strategy to protect rural communities from COVID-19,” said Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management.
December 5: Yes, some Americans may be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine but not by the federal government. (USA Today)
Once the FDA issues full approval for a coronavirus vaccine, it’s possible that employers or states may require people to be vaccinated before returning or accessing workplaces, schools, and colleges, according to experts. But the government isn’t likely to mandate vaccination for the general public, they say. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, said it could take years before schoolchildren or others are required to get the coronavirus vaccine. “For every vaccine that’s new, it takes a while to gain familiarity and general acceptance,” he said. “Much of that involves assuring the effectiveness [and] the long-term safety profile. There’s a comfort level that should be reached by everyone—parents, families, employees. That process is going to take time.”
December 5: The Elderly vs. Essential Workers: Who Should Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First? (New York Times)
Experts have been debating who should get the coronavirus vaccine first—either older and sicker Americans, who are dying at the highest rates, or essential workers, who have borne the greatest risk of infection. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, was quoted.
December 5: ‘Natural Immunity’ From Covid Is Not Safer Than a Vaccine (New York Times)
It’s not known whether natural infection with the coronavirus or a vaccine produces a stronger immune response. But experts say that vaccines are a safer bet because COVID-19 can be deadly, and because allowing the virus to go unchecked can overwhelm hospitals. In addition, it’s possible that immunity may wane in just a few months in people who recover from COVID-19 but who only got mildly ill. “Those people might benefit more from the vaccine than others would,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.
December 5: Trump’s Operation Warp Speed promised a flood of covid vaccines. Instead, states are expecting a trickle. (Washington Post)
Manufacturing problems and bottlenecks in the supply of raw materials are some of the hurdles in ramping up production of coronavirus vaccines, say experts. Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, was quoted.
December 5: How Does The COVID Vaccine Work? Doctors Answer Key Questions (WBZ Boston)
Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, quoted
December 5: As case counts stabilize, Minnesota sees surge in COVID-19 deaths (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
December 5: The Swiss Cheese Model of Pandemic Defense (New York Times)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
December 4: Rapid Antigen Tests Are Effective, Cheap, and Could Quash the Pandemic Within Weeks (In Theory) (New York Magazine)
In this Q&A, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, discussed how rapid at-home COVID-19 tests can help control the spread of the disease.
December 4: Youth sports have been hit with few coronavirus outbreaks so far. Why is ice hockey so different? (Washington Post)
December 4: Last Call for COVID: To Avoid Bar Shutdowns, States Serve Up Curfews (Kaiser Health News)
Research fellow Stephen Kissler quoted
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology and associate director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, were among infectious disease experts quoted about their disillusionment with the way the U.S. has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Ashish Jha, adjunct professor of global health and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, was also quoted.
December 4: Atul Gawande on Coronavirus Vaccines and Prospects for Ending the Pandemic (New Yorker)
In an interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick, Atul Gawande—professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and a surgeon, author, New Yorker staff writer, Ariadne Labs co-founder, and member of President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force—discussed a wide range of issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, including U.S. missteps, the Biden administration’s plan to stop the pandemic, and vaccine challenges.
December 4: Continuing COVID-19 vaccine trials may put some volunteers at unnecessary risk. Is that ethical? (USA Today)
There’s no consensus among experts as to whether it’s ethical to continue giving people placebos in coronavirus vaccine trials, now that it appears that at least two vaccines—those made by Pfizer and Moderna—appear to be highly effective. On one hand, experts say it would be wrong to delay giving a potentially lifesaving vaccine to anyone. On the other hand, if a placebo group in a vaccine trial ends early, scientists won’t have full information on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. It’s a “thorny issue,” said Mary Bassett, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. “It would serve the public best if people continue in the trials as they were enrolled.”
Dean Michelle Williams and Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, discussed a Lancet article they-co-authored that proposed an ambitious global health agenda for the Biden administration, including rejoining the global public health community, boosting funding for scientific research, and restoring and rebuilding agencies including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
December 3: Find Your Place in the Vaccine Line (New York Times)
This New York Times article offers a fill-in-the-blanks form for figuring out what your place in line might be to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. The form was created form using a tool called the Vaccine Allocation Planner for COVID-19 that was developed by Ariadne Labs—a joint center for health systems innovation of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—and the Surgo Foundation, a nonprofit focused on solving health and social problems.
December 3: What we know about COVID-19 vaccines in Mass. — and what we don’t (Boston Globe)
Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, and William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, were among experts who answered questions about COVID-19 vaccines. Biddinger said that although Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker made clear that health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities would be first in line for a coronavirus vaccine, there still won’t be enough vaccine in the first shipment for everyone in those groups. “I think there’s going to have to be a degree of subprioritization,” he said. Experts also noted that people should continue to wear a mask and social distance even after they get vaccinated, because not everyone can get vaccinated at the same time and there will still be infection going around. Said Hanage, “What you really want is to have sufficient solidarity, so even once you’ve receive the vaccine, you’re gonna be wearing a mask, so that other people can feel comfortable wearing a mask around you.”
December 3: Covid-19 Hospitalizations, Single-Day Deaths Hit New U.S. Highs (Wall Street Journal)
Doctors in some places are beginning to ration intensive care as hospitals fill with coronavirus patients. Thomas Tsai, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management, commented on the strain on hospitals.
December 3: Vaccines’ side effects risk sidelining health workers while cases surge (Boston Globe)
Health care workers who receive the first available doses of coronavirus vaccines may experience side effects such as fevers, chills, headaches, and joint pain that could keep them from working—which could be a problem given the high demand for their services amid the surging pandemic. Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, said that his hospital will try to stagger employee vaccinations.
December 3: Sharp increase in Mass. COVID-19 cases likely does not include expected Thanksgiving surge (Boston Globe)
Since it can take up to 14 days for a person to test positive for COVID-19 after exposure, the current surge in coronavirus cases may not be due to Thanksgiving travel—meaning that there could be another surge still to come, according to experts. “It’s only been seven days [since Thanksgiving], and we have an additional week from now to start seeing all of the cases of COVID-19 from the holiday, so it is very concerning that we’re already seeing a record number of cases,” said Jose Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management, on December 3. “It suggests that things are only going to get worse.” Barry Bloom, Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Research Professor of Public Health, said that even if there’s more of a surge, it will be hard to know how or where people were infected, given the high level of community spread.
December 3: Baker anticipates start of COVID-19 vaccine rollout will be ‘a little lumpy’ (Boston Globe)
Paul Biddinger, director of the Emergency Preparedness Research, Evaluation & Practice Program (EPREP) at Harvard Chan School and director of emergency preparedness for the Mass General-Brigham Hospital Network, quoted
December 3: Covid advisory panel had vote on indoor dining, talked vaccine dates; Meanwhile, cases still rise (Cambridge Day)
William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, quoted
December 3: Massachusetts Scales Up Contact Tracing, But Some Experts Question Its Value (WGBH)
Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, and Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, expressed doubts about how much help contact tracing can be at this point in the pandemic in the U.S., when the virus has spread so widely. Mina said a recent study showed major limitations of contact tracing, including the timeliness of tracers’ calls and how many cases are actually caught compared to all those that aren’t. And Lipsitch noted that contact tracing, because it’s so resource-intensive, can divert public health efforts from other activities.
Long-term or rare side effects from the coronavirus vaccine may emerge only after millions of people are immunized, say experts. That’s why the vaccines will continue to be monitored throughout their rollout. “Monitoring and reporting those outcomes are critical to assuring trust and confidence in any vaccine,” said Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership. Koh and others stressed that the benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risks, given the deadliness of COVID-19.
December 2: Will there be a serious post-Thanksgiving COVID surge? (Harvard Gazette)
Speaking at a Facebook Live event sponsored by The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and PRI’s “The World,” Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, said that experts expect to see a post-Thanksgiving surge in coronavirus cases and deaths over the next few weeks. Murray also discussed coronavirus vaccines and testing.
December 2: COVID-19 vaccine won’t undo decades of justifiable distrust in communities of color (Philadelphia Inquirer)
This op-ed, co-authored by Dean Michelle Williams, listed ways that policymakers and public health professionals can build trust in a coronavirus vaccine among Black and Latinx Americans, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic but who are more likely than other groups to doubt vaccine safety.
December 2: Should people who recovered from Covid get vaccinated? (NBC)
Experts recommend that even those who’ve recovered from COVID-19 get vaccinated. Sarah Fortune, John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, said that, so far, there is no evidence that a vaccine would be unsafe for COVID-19 survivors, but more research is needed. She said, “The first question is about safety, but then the second question is: Is there any added benefit?”
Experts, including research fellow Stephen Kissler, say that having a cold, the flu, or getting a flu vaccine will not lead you to test positive for the coronavirus. “The COVID test is very specifically targeted towards a part of the genetic sequence of COVID that is not shared by other coronaviruses or certainly not by the flu, which is very distantly related,” he said. “So you would not get a positive test due to vaccination or infection by those things.”
December 2: Amid a tsunami of COVID-19 infections, strain on contact tracing grows. Should we keep trying? (Boston Globe)
Contact tracing efforts have slowed in Massachusetts as coronavirus cases have surged. Some experts, like Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, say it doesn’t make sense to keep pushing the effort right now. “It continues to boggle my mind why we continue to try to use this strategy that is just not working now,” he said. He said the focus on contact tracing is “detracting from our ability to be creative and think of other solutions.”
More than two dozen public health experts, epidemiologists, state officials, bioethicists, and others discussed how to make the most of the opportunity presented by the upcoming COVID-19 vaccination effort. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, and Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, were quoted.
December 2: More Than 250,000 Are Dead. Why Is There So Little Collective Grief? (Elemental)
There are many possible reasons why the nation hasn’t collectively mourned the more than 250,000 people who died from COVID-19, according to experts. One may be that the coronavirus has prevented people from coming together in person to mourn, according to research associate Christy Denckla. “Mourning and grief occur in groups,” she said. “Traditionally people gather in some way physically to mourn and grieve and collectively support one another. That’s of course impossible in Covid. So some of the very natural or typical ways that people might gather to commemorate loss and grief are impossible now.” She added that, during past national tragedies, such as 9/11, there was a distinct endpoint—but the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing.
December 2: What side effects could you get from Moderna, Pfizer coronavirus vaccines? (Boston Herald)
Side effects from the Modern and Pfizer coronavirus vaccines could include fatigue, headache, and injection site pain, according to the companies. Megan Murray, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, said that experiencing side effects indicates evidence of an immune response, which is normal. “Like other vaccines for common infections, people can expect to get a low-grade fever or have a headache, which usually only lasts 24 to 48 hours and then that passes,” she said.
December 2: Harvard School of Public Health Epidemiologist Answers Facebook Live Questions on State of Pandemic (Harvard Crimson)
December 1: Racism Within Communities Predicts Worse COVID-19 Outcomes for Black Americans, Study Shows (Everyday Health)
A recent study found that U.S. counties with large Black and Hispanic communities and high levels of racism had more COVID-19 cases and deaths than areas with similar demographics but less community racism. Natalia Linos, executive director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, commented on the study, which she was not involved in. “COVID-19 didn’t create deep inequities, it revealed them,” she said.
In an interview on the podcast Pivot with co-hosts Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology, urged people to pressure their legislators to work on getting approval for rapid paper-strip COVID-19 tests that can be used at home. Mina has been advocating for such tests for months.