In a 30-minute webcast on March 17, 2020 by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), scientific experts provided insights on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and ways to prevent its spread.*
JHU’s Andy Pekosz, PhD, Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology, and Caitlin M. Rivers, PhD, an Assistant Professor, presented on the topic. The webcast was moderated by Josh Sharfstein, MD, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at JHU.
- Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
- The beginning of the outbreak happened in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020.
- COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The infection is typically spread from one person to another via respiratory droplets produced during coughing and sneezing.
- Patients with impaired lung conditions, including pulmonary fibrosis (PF), are at particular risk for COVID-19 with worse outcomes.
- Dr. Andy Pekosz talked about the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. He emphasized that the speed with which a vaccine was designed and brought to the first step of testing was amazing. There are two vaccine trials: one beginning the week of March 16 and the second starting the following week.
- The fast progress in the first steps of the COVID-19 vaccine trials is explained by the experience acquired with two other respiratory viruses: MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
- The difference between these viruses is that SARS-CoV-2 spreads in humans more efficiently than SARS or MERS.
- The goal of this research is to generate a vaccine that mimics SARS-CoV-2 so a natural antibody can be produced that will stop the virus from infecting cells.
- After the first phase of clinical trials, effectiveness testing will be performed which could take 12-18 months.
The second speaker, Caitlin Rivers, emphasized the need for strict personal protective measures to slow the spread of the disease.
- These measures include personal hygiene, safety measures, and community actions; for example, social distancing and environmental actions such as cleaning surfaces.
- Young people are at lower risk for the disease, but they can act as a bridge for transmission to high-risk populations, including people aged 60 and older and those with serious underlying conditions like PF.
*Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2020, March 17). COVID-19: Johns Hopkins University Experts Discuss Pandemic Response Strategy [Webcast].