The COVID-19 Pandemic: April 14 is Giving Day and a COVID-19 potpourriApr 12, 2022
April 14 is the first CU Anschutz Giving Day, making it the first for the Colorado School of Public Health as well. The school’s priority is to support our Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Scholarship Fund. This fund helps promote diversity, equity, and inclusivity in the school and the field of public health. Students at all three of our universities are eligible to apply for this scholarship. Gifts made to this fund between now and midnight on Giving Day—this Thursday—will be matched up to $5,000.
I am also pleased to announce the Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte Endowed Scholarship for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Leadership. The fund, generously supported by the Colorado Trust, is named after Dr. Picotte—the first American Indian woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. The story of her remarkable career and the barriers that she overcame is told in a great article in the Smithsonian Magazine.
“Potpourri” refers to a mixture of fragrant plant materials, but it is also used more generally for an array of topics. The first topic in my pandemic blend seems more odiferous than fragrant: the Swedish Pandemic Experiment. Recall that under the direction of Sweden’s head epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, the country took its own course at the start of the pandemic, eschewing lock-downs and pursuing non-restrictive policies around social distancing, masks, and school closings. Achieving “herd immunity” was perhaps an underlying goal, although not explicitly stated. A recent paper in Nature dissects the Swedish pandemic response and finds failings in every aspect. Some findings are shocking, including the approach to providing care to the elderly and avoiding input from the scientific community. The authors state that Sweden proceeded as though their policies were “right,” while all other countries were “wrong.” The conclusions begin with: “The Swedish response to this pandemic was unique and characterised by a morally, ethically, and scientifically questionable laissez-faire approach, a consequence of structural problems in the society.” The paper recommends that Sweden begin a “self-critical process” concerning its political culture and the “lack of accountability of decision-makers.”
What was the cost of Sweden’s failures in terms of the lives of its citizens? Investigators in the United Kingdom addressed this question, offering a comparison of what happened in Sweden to what would have happened if the experience of its neighbor, Denmark, had prevailed. And, a further comparison was made by extending the Swedish experience to the United Kingdom. The findings are a further indictment of Sweden. With Denmark’s approach, Sweden’s mortality rate would have been halved during the first wave in 2020; extending Swedish policy to the United Kingdom would have doubled mortality. As a reminder, the Swedish approach was foundational to the highly flawed Great Barrington Declaration.
Now is the time for the type of in-depth review called for in the recent Nature publication. Such reviews should be considered more widely than Sweden. In a recent Colorado Sun commentary, Steve Berman, Director of the Center for Global Health, called for a “hot wash,” a deep analytical review of the pandemic response. The Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act (PREVENT Pandemics Act) calls for a commission to analyze the pandemic response in the United States. Such analyses should be directed at “lessons learned” rather than “what could have been.” The underlying proposition—that we should have and could have done better at reducing the pandemic’s burden of disease and death—is correct without argument. I await Sweden’s response to the damning analysis in Nature.
One more instance of what could have been. In a New York Times op-ed entitled “How Republicans Failed the Unvaccinated,” Ross Douthat describes the findings of an ingenious experiment. Larsen and colleagues carried out a randomized controlled trial at the county level, randomizing more than 2,100 counties to receive a 27-second YouTube video with clips of President Trump, taken from Fox News, with positive messaging about COVID-19 vaccines or no video as a comparison. The campaign was estimated to increase the number of people vaccinated per county by 103, translating into 104,036 additional vaccinations across the 1,014 treatment counties at a cost of $100,000. The campaign ran in October 2021. Given the political divide around vaccination, what might have been the benefits of more proactive messaging by former President Trump?
Pandemic calm continues in Colorado. Remember, this Thursday is Giving Day. If you are able, I hope you will make a gift to support our students.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health