Policy Pub: Going Viral: What We Can learn from Pandemics, Past, Present, and…

To learn about these topics in more depth, please navigate here to watch the full Pubinar and Q&A from Dr. Rowan, presented by FSU’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

In these uncertain times, it is hard to know what to expect. It seems like every day, there is a new update about how our country is responding to Covid-19, and the role citizens have to play to help get it under control. That in mind, will herd immunity be effective for Covid-19? What is the efficacy of the first round of vaccines? Will life ever be normal again? In the new FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy Pubinar, Dr. Alan Rowan answers these questions and many more.

In order to understand the state of the world and its response to Covid-19, it is imperative to look at previous pandemics and how they were handled. Past pandemics have included the 1346-1350 Black Death, the 1918-1920 “Spanish Flu” (H1N1), 2003-2004 SARS, to name a few. One of the most salient parts of Dr. Rowan’s talk is his discussion of the usage of heard immunity to combat pandemics. Herd immunity is described as an indirect form of protection from a virus. Through herd immunity, a significant portion of the population become immune to the disease through previous infection or vaccination and thus, reduces the likelihood of spread to those who may lack immunity. Dr. Rowan discusses that herd immunity may not be an effective solution to the question of Covid-19. Baked into herd immunity is the acceptance of the number of people who may die from this disease, and the number of people who would become ill. The number of people becoming ill through herd immunity would overwhelm the healthcare systems and put health care providers at greater risk for infection, as well as makes it difficult for people with other injuries or infections to get treatment, as well. Thus, herd immunity is not a viable option for dealing with Covid-19.

Recording of the online webinar of Dr. Alan Rowan’s presentation on the current COVID-19 pandemic, its historical context, and outlook for the future.

So, instead of herd immunity, what can we do? What we’ve been doing! Social distance, wear a mask, wash hands. This approach works to fight of not only Covid-19, but other infectious diseases. These same methods were used in fighting global pandemics in the past, and we know these methods have been shown to slow and stop the spread of infection. Other things you can do to keep yourself safe and healthy are to get enough sleep and eat nutritious foods. Focusing on other aspects health can help boost immune system.

Okay, so we’re doing everything we recommended, wearing masks, washing hands, etc. When does everything go back to normal? According to epidemiologists, it does not appear we will go back to normal. Instead, we will have to embrace our “new normal.” Epidemiologists posit that, pending vaccinations, by Summer 2021, larger social events will start to become safe again. However, epidemiologists warn that Covid-19 might become a seasonal event, like the flu, thus necessitating mask usage and social distancing practices for the next couple years. This new normal also includes a reexamination of current business and work practices and a reorienting to the continued use of remote working and learning. Moreover, Covid-19 also could change social practices, such as hugging and shaking hands. Perhaps these practices will become less commonplace in the foreseeable future. When discussing future pandemics, it is important to understand that as the time it takes to travel the world has gone down, the population has gone up. This makes disease spread much more quick and widespread than ever before. Thus, one’s responsibility to the public regarding health and individual action taken to stop disease spread is higher than ever. This is a major consideration when discussing future pandemics and spread of disease.

Q: If I have contact with someone who is dying of Covid-19 vs. someone who has a milder case, will one get me sicker?
A: There is not a single virus that makes us ill. There are probably a thousand of the viruses that are what gets us ill. So, if someone is dying of it, it probably means their viral load is very high so they would be much more hazardous perhaps than somebody that is not as sick.

Q: What are the long term negative effects of Covid-19?
A: What we’re hearing is that Covid-19 is not like, for instance, the cold. People often stay sick for weeks or months and don’t recover right away so we’re still finding that out. But some of the symptoms are not just the fever and chills and what is typically discussed but actually can have neurological impacts as well as circulatory impacts.

Q: What is the efficacy of the first round of immunizations? Should we be concerned about the pressure to come up with a vaccine quickly?
A: The FDA has been testing and licensing vaccines for many, many decades. They do this a lot. They’ve gone through stage 1 looking at the toxicity of these vaccines. Stage 2 where they do comparisons. And now stage 3 where they look at different cohorts of people who receive the vaccine compared to other cohorts who did not receive the vaccine and seeing differences about efficacies there. I am confident that whichever vaccines are approved by the FDA will be safe.

Q: Could Covid-19 mutate to the point where the vaccine does not work?
A: Every year, we get new vaccines for influenza because it mutates so often. There is a possibility of Covid-19 mutating and that it would require a different vaccine every year. But right now, we’re trying to focus on everyone getting vaccinated so we can completely wipe out the current strain.

If you would like to learn more about this topic more in depth, or hear more answers from the Q&A, please check out the full video.

Dr. Rowan is a long-time epidemiologist and on the faculty of Florida State University’s Public Health program. You can learn more about Dr. Rowan and his research here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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