Nationally-recognized health policy expert encourages vigilance in fight against COVID-19


Get used to doing those “elbow bumps.”

Shaking hands and giving/receiving hugs to just about anyone other than those in your immediate household aren’t advised — unless you’re not worried about getting and spreading COVID-19.

“I think that’s going to be with us for a while,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, during a recent virtual interview with me. “We may never fully get rid of COVID. It may be something that we keep having to get booster shots for every few years.”

McClellan should know. He was the commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under President George W. Bush. He’s also a medical doctor (MD, Harvard Medical School) and an economist (Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology). A nationally-recognized authority on health policy, he currently directs the Duke University-Margolis Center for Health Policy.

“I think we are seeing a fall resurgence (of COVID-19),” he told me after looking at the latest numbers. “It has happened less aggressively in North Carolina than in other parts of the country. It’s a reminder that as we head into winter, as we try to reopen schools, as people are in closer quarters together, we need to be more — not less — vigilant.”

There is reason for hope, however. In fact, McClellan believes we’ll have a vaccine soon.

“I think the first authorization could come as soon as late this year,” he said. “Now that won’t be for everyone.” He believes those at the highest risk (the elderly) will get it first along with those who work on the front lines.

“So again, it’s going to be important to look at all that evidence that we’re going to have a chance to review before anybody needs to make a decision about getting a shot in the arm. And then listening to your health professional who will hopefully have a chance to talk to, listen to and take all this evidence and recommendations from the experts that will be coming based on what the clinical trials actually show.”

He also believes parents need to keep a couple of things in mind as they make decisions whether to send their children back to in-person learning in school.

“The number one thing to look at is just how much COVID is there in the community,” he said. “And if we can get the rates down there’s not much of a chance of a student or a worker actually bringing in a case. The second reason is to be confident the school is taking steps to reduce the risk of spread and this includes things like distancing, smaller classes, limited numbers of students staying together as well as masks.”

But he does believe things will get better, it’s just going to take a lot of diligence and patience.

“I think it may get a little bit worse before it gets better over the next two months. Now we talk about how cases are going up around the country. We haven’t been doing a great job of taking these steps that can reduce spread. But hopefully, we’ll make some progress on that. But I think as we head into 2021, it’s going to get better.”

Just remember to do the “elbow bumps.”

To read more about Dr. McClellan, click here.

To read more about Duke University’s Margolis Center for Health Policy, click here.

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