Tiffany Vora: "Health in the Era of Pandemic". - 2020 SingularityU Greece Virtual Salon

Here is the response from Dr. Vora on the additional questions that we couldn’t cover during the live webinar:

Dear friends,

Thank you for joining the conversation with Singularity University Greece on April 15! Here I’ve responded to questions in the chat (I grouped similar questions together). I also found this informative Q&A from The San Francisco Chronicle last week. Check out the information and links I’ve provided below, and please take a few moments to answer this short survey, to contribute to my international research on Covid-19. Finally, don’t forget to stay in touch with SU Greece and with me at tiffanyvora.com.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay positive!

Tiffany

 

Q: Can we have your slides, and see the not-so-optimistic scenario?

A: Yes! SU Greece is sharing that information with you. The PDF has everything that I showed you during the Virtual Salon, plus a few extra things, with links for you to explore.

 

Q: How will mutations in the virus affect the disease and our responses to it?

A: These are data that we are gathering right now, thanks to the huge number of SARS-CoV-2 sequences that we have, plus increasing amounts of data on patient health and the course of their disease. Scientists are trying to connect those two datasets, so that we can rapidly identify patients at the highest risk, target our treatments and vaccines effectively, figure out how individual patient immune responses impact the course of the disease, and be on the lookout for particular mutations that may deserve a stronger response from governments. So far there have been no reports of particularly worrisome mutations, but we should be on the alert and have plans to respond, for example if the virus suddenly becomes more infectious or renders a promising drug useless.

 

Q: How is testing going to help us understand the outbreak and subsequent immunity to SARS-CoV-2?

A: Widespread, reliable testing for both the virus (active infection) and immunity (previous infection) is going to be crucial, particularly in 2020. Reliability is important for many reasons. For example, we need to know that we can accurately detect the virus even during the incubation phase, and that levels of antibodies in the blood actually predict whether a person will fight off the virus. Looking forward, virus testing will be important for spotting new outbreaks as they happen, and to monitor the effectiveness of government responses; immunity testing will be crucial for knowing whether our assumptions about immunity to subsequent reinfection are valid, whether a vaccine is actually working once it comes to market, whether individuals are safe to return to public life, whether workplaces are safe, and whether an individual may be at higher-than-normal risk due to their particular immune profile. Testing data will also reveal insights into the disease and the virus that causes it. Right now we are hobbled by the severe undertesting that’s happened around the world. We need more data to understand SARS-CoV-2 and our immune system, and to evaluate the effectiveness of our responses.

 

Q: What technological advances are helping us to fight Covid-19 today?

A: We’ve had 6 pandemics in the last hundred years, and the responses that we’re seeing today to Covid-19 are incredibly fast and creative compared to any previous pandemic—largely due to breakthroughs in science and technology. I think the greatest technological assistance is coming from artificial intelligence, digital tools for collaboration, and advances in biotechnology. Artificial intelligence is crucial because it’s accelerating diagnostics, drug discovery, the screening of drug candidates to focus lab testing, and drug repurposing (when a drug that was investigated for one disease gets applied to another disease). Digital tools for collaboration mean that it’s faster and easier than ever to share information and to crowdsource innovative solutions to data-analysis problems and hardware development. Biology breakthroughs in CRISPR (for virus detection), genome sequencing (for monitoring mutations and understanding how the virus works), stem cells (for rapidly testing drugs and unraveling the body’s responses to infection), and other fields are driving innovation and setting the stage for future rapid responses to this and other diseases. Without these and other innovations, it would be very challenging to tackle this virus in today’s highly connected world.

 

Q: What’s the new normal going to be? How are we going to get there?

A: I believe that we will have a new normal around behaviors that make it easy for the virus to spread, like gathering in groups and traveling. This will affect how we work and how we enjoy ourselves. But I think there will be positive benefits, such as less commuting (meaning less traffic, less pollution, and less time lost “in between”) and an increase in sustainability mindsets (questioning what goods and services we really need, instead of habitual consumption). These new behaviors will be important to change the spikes in Covid-19 cases that will reappear whenever restrictions are lifted (particularly before we have a vaccine), so that the peaks are lower (meaning fewer people get sick) and the outbreaks are shorter (meaning that they are contained quickly) than we’re seeing in this first wave. That’s why it’s so important for governments to earn their citizens’ trust and for people to follow the restrictions.

On a broader level, I’m hopeful about maintaining the increased visibility and financial support that our healthcare systems are currently seeing. It’s important that we not forget the lessons that we’re learning about the fragility and importance of our healthcare systems and the people who make them work. This is one reason that essential healthcare workers will likely be the first to receive a vaccine, but nonetheless we must ensure that vaccines are broadly available. We’re learning similar lessons about whose work is “essential”—and how vulnerable many of these people are to financial shocks.

 

Q: What roles can digital health providers play in this pandemic?

A: The spreading of misinformation and false information during the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of trust in today’s world. Trust will be key to breaking the chains of misinformation and false information. I think that digital health providers need to position themselves as the go-to sources for reliable information and guidance. In order to do that, I think that people need to trust the motives and behaviors of these service providers. How can trust be earned? Through communication that is timely and transparent—including about things that we don’t know (yet). I think that trust in health providers breaks down when people suspect that their health isn’t the top priority of the people who are supposed to safeguard it, for example because politics, funding, or public relations seem more important than providing health services. Culturally, we have a great deal of trust in healthcare workers as individuals, but there is still work to be done around trust in organizations.