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February 26, 2024

Epidemiologist explores global approaches to COVID-19

By JESSICA KASAMOTO | April 26, 2021



Professor Jennifer Nuzzo stressed the worldwide scope of the pandemic and explained that the virus will not be under control until it is contained everywhere.

The School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) hosted a lecture about responses to the COVID-19 pandemic around the world on April 20. 

Jennifer Nuzzo, professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, spoke about the global outlook of the pandemic. The talk highlighted different vaccine rollout strategies and the prospect of a post-pandemic world.

The event was moderated by Eliot Cohen, Dean and Robert E. Osgood Professor at SAIS. 

Nuzzo explained that while looking at the progress of each individual country is helpful, it is important to realize that this is a worldwide situation, and we will all be vulnerable until the virus is under control everywhere.

“The truth is the tools, the strategies, the resources that countries need to combat this are global,“ Nuzzo said.  

While some countries have been successful in rolling out vaccines enough to prevent spring outbreaks, Nuzzo acknowledged that case levels are still concerning in many parts of the world. She noted the need for a larger supply of vaccines.  

The need for expanded vaccination is universal. Nuzzo explained that even countries that have been successful at containing the virus thus far will remain vulnerable until a vast portion of its population is vaccinated. 

“The non-pharmaceutical interventions that countries are using, like travel restrictions and social distancing measures, are pause buttons,” Nuzzo said. “As soon as you release the measures, there’s the risk that the virus will rip through.”

Nuzzo also discussed the different approaches various countries have taken with vaccination. While the U.S. chose to limit early allocations of vaccines to vulnerable populations, like the elderly and healthcare providers, another viable strategy would have been to vaccinate younger populations first. She noted that this is because these groups have been the primary drivers of spread.

Indonesia decided to vaccinate its younger, healthier populations first in hopes of reducing transmission rates sooner, though they did switch to only vaccinating more vulnerable populations once the supply of vaccines became constrained. However, Nuzzo assured that the U.S. will also see this large reduction in caseload once a larger proportion of younger people have been vaccinated. 

In terms of herd immunity, Nuzzo explained that the amount of people in a population that need immunity in order to prevent future outbreaks is context-dependent and will not be the same everywhere.  

“It depends on our degree of connectivity, how likely we are to encounter people in new social networks who may be susceptible, so it’s a little more complicated,” Nuzzo said. 

Nuzzo argued that the U.S. must do a better job in defining risk-level metrics, such as daily new cases, that could signal an end to regulations like social distancing measures and mask mandates. She emphasized that having these measures in place could help encourage vaccination.

“The perception that the vaccine doesn’t change anything is frequently one of the reasons why [people] don’t think it’s worth getting vaccinated,” Nuzzo said. “That’s just simply not true. The vaccine changes everything.”

When asked about combating misinformation during the pandemic, Nuzzo emphasized the importance of empathy and recognizing that many people are genuinely trying to find reliable information. It’s important to answer as many questions and provide as many credible sources as possible to those who may be grappling with false information.

“Just speak to them as another human being,” Nuzzo said. 

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