Forum stresses global collaboration in tackling COVID-19

Wan Lixin
A recent forum stressed global collaborative effort in public health as key to successful COVID-19 containment.
Wan Lixin

A recent forum stressed the need for collaborative effort in public health on a global scale as key to successful COVID-19 containment.

Themed on "The Fourth Yale-SJTU Bilateral Forum on Global Public Health Policy: the Impact of COVID-19 on Medical Services Delivery and Public Health System," the forum was jointly held in the weekend by Yale University (Yale) and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU).

As the medical services delivery and public health system have been significantly impacted by the lasting impact of COVID-19 all over the world, the two universities had been closely cooperating with each other in seeking innovative solutions for pressing public health issues, and their achievements on the implementational side have been remarkable, said Lisa X. Xu, SJTU vice president.

In his speech, Sten Vermund, Dean of Yale School of Public Health, said the two schools have been closely engaged in COVID-19 related researchers, as he elaborated on reaping the rich benefits of "widespread vaccination." Vermund said COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are remarkably effective, with one real-world study of 4,000 healthcare and essential workers in the US finding 161 infections in the unvaccinated workers, compared with 3 infections in fully vaccinated people.

He also observed that serious breakthrough infections are extremely rare among the vaccinated. "According to CDC, death rates in fully vaccinated people from COVID-19 are less than 0.001 percent," he said, adding that vaccinated individuals are unlikely to pass the virus on to unvaccinated individuals, though Delta is more transmissible. In making the case for having children vaccinated, Vermund said that multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and Long COVID-19 are vaccine-preventable complications. In making a case for vaccinating kids, he also cited missed days of school, the disruptive potency of isolation and quarantine, and the risk to vulnerable children and adults, and the need to prepare for more infectious variants in the future.

Skills for persuasion

In discussing keys to success in launching vaccine programs, Vermund mentioned the need to empower local leadership to implement change, be more accepting of suggestions from all sources, getting right the communication rhythm, clear focus and a lean operation, and organizational commitment.

To achieve these, those who resist vaccination, or believe vaccination to be conspiratorial have to be persuaded.

Vermund said to be persuasive, you need to affirm or agree as far as you can. For instance, you might say, "You're right the pharmaceutical industry is making a lot of money on this;" "You're right the vaccine was developed in record time;" "You're right the government has historically treated African Americans horribly," because counterarguing is likely to be ineffective, and information alone will likely not convert.

Thus it is advisable to move the motive from "Protecting Self" to "Helping Others," citing the merits of preserving independence, and becoming a protector. In his presentation, Paul Cleary, professor of Public health at Yale University and member of the National Academy of Medicine, observed that COVID-19 fear and restrictions resulted in very large changes in health service use in the US, with many visits now conducted by telephone and/or video.

He said that while telehealth may result in wider access and efficiency, patients still rate face-to-face visits higher than other types of interactions, thus he concluded that monitoring the quality and results of telehealth interactions will be important to ensure high quality care.

In the roundtable panel, Zhang Zhiruo, professor at SJTU School of Public Health, observed that if what Israel had achieved in COVID-19 treatment is miraculous, than China is a miracle in COVID-19 prevention. "The pandemic is a test of our public administration capability and our success in prevention is to be partly attributed to the legal infrastructure established since the SARS," he said.

Zhang compared some countries' tendency to blame others, or shift responsibilities to others, to someone gloating over the fire engulfing one's neighbor, warning that refraining from rendering help might harm oneself in the end.

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