COVID-19 Webcast: Virology, Vaccine Development, and Social Distancing

COVID-19 is now a global pandemic. Businesses are shuttering, classes are canceled, and financial markets are taking significant hits.

This is a critical time for information but also for the support and reassurance that science and evidence can offer. What actions do we know are effective in pandemics? Does social distancing truly make a difference in an outbreak? What have we learned about COVID-19 that can inform how we prepare and respond in our daily lives?  

Dr. Andrew Pekoszand Dr. Caitlin M. Rivers joined Dr. Joshua Sharfstein to share the latest need-to-know information in a webcast about a coronavirus vaccine, social distancing, and what to expect next. 
 
A piece of good news is that phase one of the first COVID-19 vaccine trial launched on March 16. That coronavirus research has reached this point so quickly—in two months—is an “amazing” scientific feat, says Pekosz. 
 
The goal in this early stage is to assess the vaccine’s safety and ability to generate an effective antibody response that recognizes and halts the virus before it infects cells. In the best-case scenario, a vaccine could be ready in 12–18 months, Pekosz says. 
 
Still unknown is why the virus is causing a lot of mild COVID-19 cases, while SARS coronavirus infections typically resulted in more acute illness. 
 
“If we can understand how the virus drives mild disease,” Pekosz explains, “we may be able to come up with better treatment for severe disease.” 
 
The bad news: “Prepare for having to deal with this [COVID-19] during the summer months,” Pekosz says. 
 
On the behavioral side of U.S. efforts to slow the coronavirus spread and ease the strain on health systems, people are trying to navigate social distancing measures: closed schools, canceled sports seasons, and self-isolation.  
 
It’s early in the process, says Rivers. She notes that any disruption in the virus’s spread won’t show up in the data for 7–10 days. 
 
“It’s only in the last couple weeks that we’ve begun to recognize community transmission in the U.S.,” she says. “I don’t think we’ve turned the corner yet, but there’s greater awareness about protecting the community. I think we can turn things around.”
 
Rivers points to social distancing as a contributor to the tapering off of COVID-19 cases in some Asian countries.
 
“The experience of SARS helped to inform Asia’s response,” she says. “They really understand what social distancing means and were able to lean into the kinds of measures that we are now taking. Social distancing really does work.”
 
Don’t Forget:

  • This coronavirus is most effectively transmitted through droplets, like those from a cough or sneeze.
  • The coronavirus can be killed easily by most alcohol-based microbials. Homemade disinfectants include a diluted bleach solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) and isopropyl rubbing alcohol (70% solution can be used non-diluted; 90% solution can be mildly diluted).
  • In times of social distancing, getting exercise outside supports mental and physical health. It is still important to maintain six feet of space from others.
  • Use online resources like Skype and Zoom to stay connected, especially with older people who have underlying health conditions.
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