CorporateHealthJune 03, 2021

A conversation with Dr. Anthony Fauci and expert panel on pandemics and the future of COVID-19

On May 25, the John Adams Institute hosted a conversation with public health expert and advisor to the Biden Administration Dr. Anthony Fauci, followed by a panel discussion featuring Dr. Denise Basow, President and CEO of Clinical Effectiveness at Wolters Kluwer, and virologist Dr. Marion Koopmans, and moderated by Professor Damiaan Denys. We take a look at some of the highlights from the conversation. 


A future with COVID-19 between elimination and control 


In a wide-ranging virtual discussion that covered public health, vaccines, modern viruses, and global health equity, all panelists were united on COVID-19 being a wakeup call for the world and a chance to better prepare for the future. Dr. Fauci discussed outbreaks and human pathogens:  “If you look at the history of human pathogens, we've only eradicated one particular pathogen, and that was smallpox. We've eliminated in certain regions of the world a number of pathogens; polio in many countries no longer exists, measles in certain countries no longer exists. That's what's called elimination. And then there's control, control means you don't get rid of it, but it goes to such a low level that it doesn't become a public health issue. I believe that by the time we get the world vaccinated - and I hope that's sooner rather than later - we will wind up somewhere between elimination and control, where you may not get rid of it completely, but the world will be protected against it by vaccinations so that it will be only an unusual event that you would get an outbreak.” 

Responding to the public “infodemic” 

According to the WHO, the definition of an infodemic is “too much information including false or misleading information in digital and physical environments during a disease outbreak, which can cause confusion and risk-taking behaviors that can harm health; it can also lead to mistrust in health authorities, undermining the public health response.”   
Dr. Basow noted that the WHO has identified infodemics as a primary concern for global health, and have identified four primary activities to combat them: “The first one is listening to communities to hear the questions and concerns that they have,” said Dr. Basow. “The second is getting the right information, or again, as Dr. Fauci says, getting the real science into the hands of those communities, and helping those communities evaluate risk. The third is building resilience to misinformation. It's making sure that we know that with the capabilities of the Internet that there's going to be good information and misinformation. The last thing they talk about is engaging and empowering communities to take action. Again, I think something that we've seen on sharp display here.” 

The panel also discussed some of the complex factors influencing the global pandemic recovery effort. From the vantage of her role as advisor to the WHO, Dr. Koopmans insightfully explained the way the WHO provides global guidance, but due to variance in factors, including how national and local governments implemented policies and variety in local situations, the global recovery has been uneven. 

Dr. Denise Basow also addressed the aspect of equity within the public health response: “It’s in everybody's best interests to control the pandemic in their own country and in every country,” said Dr. Basow. “I've spent most of my career trying to get the science [and the] facts into the hands of the clinician community; doctors, pharmacists, nurses, everyone who cares for patients so that we can really try to promote the best care everywhere - at the same time not forgetting that patients are a really important part of the healthcare team. We need to get the right information into their hands as well,” she added. 

The broader issue of inequalities in vaccine distribution was discussed, specifically whether or not lifting patents on vaccines would help or hinder the global recovery. "I think that anything that we can do to get vaccines into the hands of more people globally we should be doing. Patents aren't the entire solution, but this is the time for us to come together as a global community and make sure everyone has access,” said Dr. Basow. 

Historic perspective: lessons from the AIDS epidemic 

It is 40 years since the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) published an article outlining several cases of a rare and then as-yet-unnamed lung infection. The cases described in this 1981 report turned out to be the first known cases of AIDS; since then, around 33 million people have died as a result. “This is the first pandemic in our history where technology and social media played a role in dissemination of information, and that has its pluses and minuses, but it certainly made a difference to the response early on,” noted Dr. Basow. While the modern world hasn't protected us from these viruses, stated Professor Denys, the conversation shed more light on how technology has moved us forward in virus responses, particularly in relation to vaccines.   

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