Top scientists: To defeat COVID-19, Joe Biden will need help of experts from many fields
Doctors and nurses working in hospitals across the country are sharing the realities of COVID-19. USA TODAY
Experts from multidisciplinary fields, including social and behavioral sciences, politics and economics, must be engaged in fight against COVID-19.
Over the past 10 months, the armies of misinformation and disinformation have wrought delay and death in our war against COVID-19.
As virus cases and death counts reach new peaks, the worst is yet to come if we don’t act soon and commit to a comprehensive strategy based on science and community buy-in.
In his first public address as president-elect, Joe Biden laid out an approach to defeating the virus: “Americans have called upon us to marshal the forces of decency, the forces of fairness and marshal the forces of science, and the forces of hope in a great battle of our time.”
Biden later announced a new COVID-19 advisory board and released a seven-point national strategy to fight the pandemic.
It’s welcome news — and necessary — that Biden’s administration will lead with science. His advisory board is expert and highly qualified in medicine and public health.
But this pandemic requires all hands on deck. It can be crushed only through a concerted effort that engages policy makers, business and community leaders and a public committed to the fight. In addition, we must engage experts from multidisciplinary fields, not just from medicine and epidemiology, but also social and behavioral sciences, politics and economics.
This is the partnership we need if we hope to take the necessary shared action for any strategy to work. At each level, the involvement or resistance of the public and political leaders will make or break any national effort to beat back the coronavirus and resume life as normal.
To this end, we have just formed a multidisciplinary team of about 20 pandemic, infectious disease, health care and mental health experts, mathematicians, physicists, virologists, aerosol scientists, researchers, science educators, economists, risk communicators, business leaders and community organizers. The mission of our new COVID Action Group is to support efforts toward ending the spread of COVID-19 by educating and empowering communities and policymakers with science, compassion and action.
We must develop and execute not just an effective but workable strategy to protect the health and well-being of the public and fully reopen our economy.
7 steps for Biden team to take
The COVID Action Group has released an open letter with seven specific steps to address the crisis immediately. We urge the new administration to take stakeholder and public engagement seriously by conducting daily national briefings, instituting national standards for COVID-19 prevention and treatment based on proven best practices, and disrupting disinformation about the virus through an educational campaign. Our proposal, based on our team’s first-hand experience, is an important first step.
One of us, Yaneer, is a pandemic expert, physicist and mathematician who recommended policies and community actions for the successful battle in West Africa against Ebola in 2014. The other, Ali, is a molecular biologist, president of the Federation of American Scientists and an expert in global risks, including pandemics.
We know that defeating COVID-19 is complicated yet also simple. It is complicated by the distraction of misinformation and cacophony. It is simple because hundreds, if not thousands, of the possible experiments have been done across the globe and we can observe their results.
We know that through rigorous action, taken over a five-week period, we can dramatically decrease virus transmission and hospitalizations and then proceed to end the pandemic. As we know, the spread of the virus increases exponentially, if left uncontrolled. When curtailed, it also decreases exponentially.
Don't rely too much on vaccines
And our team knows there is no panacea. While we are encouraged by early results from multiple vaccine manufacturers, pinning all of our hopes on a vaccine, that even under the best of circumstances will not be widely distributed for six months to 12 months, is dangerous.
We must remain focused on suppressing the virus in the intervening months to save lives and deny the virus the possibility of mutating into a form that renders it resistant to vaccines or therapeutics.
It is critical that we are vigilant in prevention and honest in our appraisal of the pandemic, so the public understands the real science behind defeating this deadly disease.
It’s imperative that all levels of government, including governors, mayors and city councils, understand that we need science, compassion and action to defeat COVID-19 with zero transmissions. This will require commitment, clear planning and confidence to make our goal achievable. While many have expressed doubts, as Joe Biden said: “There is nothing that we can’t achieve together.”
Our multidisciplinary group of experts will continue to work as a team to provide regular, practical, real-world guidance from an infectious disease, mathematical, emotional and mental health perspective; counter health disinformation; clearly communicate science to leaders and the public through policy papers and recommendations; identify systematic, data-driven best practices to end the pandemic; and communicate key messages through the most effective channels. We encourage and hope others will do the same.
We also hope the new Biden administration will act on the best multidisciplinary advice to ensure that effective strategies are not ignored, nor are critical stakeholders, including the public, treated as passive agents in our (and their) fight against this pandemic. Defeating COVID-19 means we need all hands on deck.
Yaneer Bar-Yam is founding president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, where he is an expert on pandemics and other complex systems. Follow him on Twitter @yaneerbaryam. Ali Nouri, a molecular biologist, is president of the Federation of American Scientists. Follow him on Twitter @AliNouriPhD. They are cofounders of the COVID Action Group.