Interdisciplinary Town Hall Looked at Lessons Learned, Ways to Move Forward

COVID-19 virus under microscope

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 6, 2021) – The School of Public Health, School of Social Welfare and College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity teamed up last week for a town hall discussion on the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The virtual event, co-hosted by the deans of the three schools, focused on population health and health equity, and included a guest presentation by Dr. Melanie Thompson, a physician, founder of the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta and past chair of the HIV Medicine Association.

Thompson focused on lessons learned during the pandemic so far, with the first requiring a recognition that “our health system is not healthy….and it’s not even a system. This did not have to happen.”

While noting that vaccines are the way out of this pandemic, Thompson noted that we are still in the throes of the pandemic and still seeing staggering numbers – particularly for minorities.

“Transmission risk is not equally distributed and it changes rapidly over time – the hot spots of today were not yesterday’s hot spots and they won’t be tomorrow’s hot spots,” said Thompson. “COVID has really taught us about the inequities that have existed for a very long time, in a very graphic way. This is not an equal opportunity pandemic.”

An additional challenge is that data is showing that about 8 percent of people who get the first vaccine in a two-dose series do not keep their appointments for the second shot.

Though the pandemic is still a concern, Thompson believes there are key strategies that can  lead to better success in year two, and they all need to be done keeping health equity in mind. These include officials focusing on better communication, standardization of data, improved rapid testing and more research on potential treatments, post-exposure prophylaxis and vaccines with a longer shelf-life at normal refrigeration.

Another key strategy should focus on vaccine hesitancy in a non-judgmental manner, with education being the centerpiece.

“I really believe that most people who are vaccine hesitant just need more information. They have legitimate questions, and taking the time to talk with people and listen to their concerns can go a long way in reducing vaccine hesitancy.”

More long term, Thompson notes a need to address structural racism, which she says is its own public health crisis. This includes creating anti-racist policies that confront issues such as housing, transportation, jobs, education and more.

You can view a recording of the town hall on YouTube.