Public Health

The Doctors Are In

June 1, 2020  • Institute Staff

By the time the number of diagnosed Covid-19 cases surpassed one million and the death toll in the US alone was more than 100,000, the terrible toll of the coronavirus had come clear. But the Health, Medicine and Society Program recognized the urgent need for conversation rooted in sound science and policy even before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and nationwide shutdowns were still rumors. In February, three of the nation’s leading infectious-disease experts spoke at the Institute’s Public Health Grand Rounds series about transmission, mortality rates, travel restrictions, quarantine measures, and treatment. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joined the Institute’s conversation even before he joined the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force. He noted that a “vaccine as part of the deployable countermeasures is not in the mix for at least a year.” And once a vaccine is available, he warned, developers would have to proceed “at risk,” meaning “you invest hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in something that you hope might work.” Nancy Messonnier, who directs the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, explained the decision to bar some foreign nationals from the country: “The idea was not that we could hermetically seal the United States against this disease.” Rather, she said, the goal was to “buy some time to work on the rest of our pandemic planning.” Ron Klain, President Barack Obama’s White House Ebola response coordinator, emphasized the need to “let science and expertise drive the response,” rather than politics. As the nation retreated more and more from public life, all three speakers appeared prescient.