Coronavirus: Thoughts from Experts

A Public Health Grand Rounds discussion presented by the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C., was held with experts in the infectious disease field presenting their thoughts and ideas on “The New Coronavirus (COVID-19): The Next Pandemic?”

Anthony Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Ron Klain, JD, former White House Ebola Response Coordinator, and Nancy Messonnier, MD, Director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC, answered questions and continued the conversation with factual facts on hand. Helen Branswell, Infectious Disease and Public Health Reporter for STAT News moderated the conversation.

Dr. Fauci said, “We need more information from China such as the scope of the illness and the actual number of cases. We know that the virus hits the elderly population hard since seniors often have serious chronic conditions, but we need to know all the facts. So far, this population has been hit harder than the younger population and for most of the population, the risk is relatively low. However, we are taking the situation seriously as we are always looking for information not only on the spread of the virus but very importantly on how to contain the spread.”

As Dr. Fauci reports, work is ongoing on developing a vaccine. However, even after the vaccine is developed, it can take months for clinical trials to take place. At that point, it will be necessary to scale up to make up tens of millions of doses of the vaccine. He estimates that the vaccine won’t be ready for at least one year.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response ASPR) within HHS will expand an existing partnership with Janssen Research & Development It is reported that Janssen and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) within ASPR, will share research and development costs and expertise to help accelerate Janssen’s investigational novel coronavirus vaccine into clinical evaluation.

The issue concerning travel bans were discussed with differing ideas. It is thought by some that until transmissions risks are known or how to contain the virus, U.S travel restrictions makes sense since it enables the U.S to work with public health agencies to develop the correct response to the possible outbreak of more cases. According to Dr. Fauci, “The goal is to reduce the speed that the virus can travel from where the outbreak originally developed, but we can’t exclude all the people that want to come to the U.S.”

Nancy Messonnier MD realizes that it is impossible to completely seal the U.S. against disease especially if transmitted by people who were asymptomatic or symptomatic and is spreading at a rapid rate. The only thing that we are accomplishing is we are buying time to prepare for the potential for greatly increasing the potential for many more cases.

However, Ron Kain doesn’t see the basis for the travel restrictions and the effort to restrict certain Chinese entry into the U.S. He added, “The U.S has hundreds of ships and planes with Chinese crews coming every day to bring us goods and medicines.”

Dr. Fauci added, “Travel bans only work when there isn’t transmission to communities in the U.S. If the coronavirus is transmitted for a sustained time, then a travel ban won’t make much sense.”

According to Dr. Messonnier, “Since there won’t be a vaccine for a year and we don’t have countermeasures to employ, what is called social distancing might be needed. This can include using telework, telemedicine, tele-education, and telling people to stay home if they are sick which truthfully will be difficult to implement.”

The briefing concluded with Dr. Fauci saying we need emergency response funds immediately along with Ron Klain in agreement. The thought is that  Congress needs to pass emergency funds to deal with this rapidly challenging health emergency that could affect health worldwide.

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