Preparing For The Next Pandemic: Johns Hopkins

posted by Alicia Caramenico

on February 24, 2021

Dr. Lisa Maragakis, Senior Director of Infection Prevention with the Johns Hopkins Health System, joined hosts Matt Eyles, AHIP president and CEO, and Laura Evans to discuss how people can keep themselves healthy as the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines continues.

Listen to the full interview on Apple, Spotify, Soundcloud, andStitcher.

Matt Eyles: What’s your advice to people in the coming months as we start to see more vaccinations? How should they prepare, what steps should they be taking, and how, finally, should we be thinking about some of these new strains of the virus and how they might relate to some of the vaccines that are out there?

Dr. Lisa Maragakis: We’re really in a critical time in the pandemic response. We see this wonderful light at the end of the tunnel. We have vaccines available and more on the horizon. And so, it is a very hopeful time.

But as you say, we also have the threat of the variants and the virus mutating and threatening to potentially undo a lot of that great work. So, I view us as essentially in a race with the virus right now. And it’s so important that we keep up our infection prevention activities. And I know everyone is so tired of it, but I think in this critical window of time, if we can continue practicing masking, physical distancing, limiting our in-person gathering, especially indoors, even after having natural infection with COVID-19 and recovering or after vaccination, while we roll out the vaccinations and get to that herd immunity level, it’s going to take some time. There’s significant challenges ahead. But I think we can get the pandemic under control.

One thing I would caution everyone is not to feel like it is a light switch that’s going to happen. That suddenly one day we will announce that we’re back to normal. I think it’s going to be a slow process. And the more that we can encourage everyone to get vaccinated, solve some of these challenges with vaccine supply and distribution, we will get there. I’m confident of it, but we just all need to work together and keep up infection prevention.

Laura Evans: What are some of the lessons you think that we will take from this past year? You talked about the flu and the lessons that we’ve learned in social distancing and how well that worked with the flu virus this year. But what do you think we will learn going forward?

Dr. Maragakis: Well, we’ve certainly learned a lot about this particular virus, and I think we’ll be more prepared in the future and have new therapeutics, new vaccines, new approaches.

But I think in terms of lessons that we’ve learned in the course of the pandemic response, one of the things I would point to is the value of preparedness activities. We have in some ways been very unprepared, unfortunately, both in the United States and around the world. So, I think we can learn lessons from that. But we can also look at what went right, and where investments were made that were very beneficial—that we had an ability to leverage public health and preparedness activities. And I would advocate that we seriously consider how to strengthen that infrastructure in the future.

This will not be the last novel pathogen that we will face, and so I think that’s very important. And really worldwide collaboration strengthens all of our abilities to overcome a threat like this.

Matt Eyles: From your perspective, what’s the next big thing?

Dr. Maragakis: Several things come to mind. One of them is about equity and access. We have seen, I think, really a spotlight in the pandemic on inequity and lack of access to health care and the kinds of disparities that that can exacerbate in our society that really ultimately threaten everyone. So, to the extent that we can solve some of those issues, I think that will be very important.

We’ve talked about investment. I do think investment in public health infrastructure and preparedness will be critical going forward. We have done this to some extent in the past, but I think not in as robust a way as we really need. We need to think beyond ventilator stockpiles to the human connections that prepare us to identify and respond to a threat like this. And so I think those things will be very important and that we really translate all of these lessons that we’re learning into future actions. I recently read an account of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and it was disheartening to realize how few of the lessons from that pandemic we really carried forward. And so hopefully we’ll do better this time around.

Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.