‘How COVID-19 Will Change the World’ educates about COVID-19

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Mike Osterholm, epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, was the main speaker in a discussion titled “Howe COVID-19 Will Change the World’ held by UKindness on Wednesday, March 31st. Photo provided by author

UKindness hosted a discussion titled “How COVID-19 Will Change the World”  moderated by Alexis Roach over Webex on Wednesday, March 31. The main speaker of the night was Mike Osterholm, an epidemiologist from the University of Minnesota and a member of President Biden’s COVID-19 advisory board. 

Osterholm spoke about how unprepared global leadership was when it came to the initial handling of COVID-19. 

“We have let this become a political issue in a way that has unfortunately hindered our response to the virus,” Osterholm said. 

He went on to say that he was warned of COVID-19 becoming a pandemic as early as early 2020, but few people listened to him. He even claimed that the World Health Organization did not want to call COVID-19 a pandemic until March 10, 2020.  

Osterholm predicted back on March 10, 2020 on the Joe Rogan podcast that there would be at least 480,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19. At the time of writing, there have been over 550,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19. 

“We have let this become a political issue in a way that has unfortunately hindered our response to the virus.”

Mike Osterholm, Epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota

Later in the discussion, Osterholm described the progression of the virus during the fall and winter. 

“In November, we came to understand that this virus was mutating in a way that we had not understood or expected. This where some of our hubris became a problem. It turns out that some of these virus mutations developed what we call variants of concern,” Osterholm said. 

He mentioned the factors that went into the variants of concern, which included the COVID-19 virus mutating to the point of becoming more infectious and evading the immune protection of vaccines.  

According to Osterholm, around 16% of the U.S. population has received COVID-19 vaccines, and up to 30% of people have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. 

“If you look at the population and the number that have immune protection and antibodies from having been previously infected and you add the people who’ve been vaccinated, you come to 50% of the population,” said Osterholm on the amount of people who have protection against COVID-19. He claims this is not enough to end the pandemic, however. 

Toward the end of the discussion, Osterholm answered questions from audience members. One question regarded how to approach people who are skeptical of taking COVID-19 vaccines.  

“In November, we came to understand that this virus was mutating in a way that we had not understood or expected. This where some of our hubris became a problem. It turns out that some of these virus mutations developed what we call variants of concern.”

Mike Osterholm, Epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota

“The most important thing is to make sure you don’t come across as you’re right and they’re wrong. People do have different journeys to a place where they feel comfortable or understand what the issues are,” Osterholm said. 

He continued answering the question by acknowledging it is useless to try to convince anti-vaxxers to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and to instead focus on those who are skeptical.  

To end the conversation, Osterholm was asked how he would advise the next generation of adults to prepare for another global pandemic. 

“Take a look at the state of Minnesota, we are the same size and population as New Zealand. While they are an island, they’ve had numerous introductions of this virus. We’ve had 6,800 people in Minnesota die from COVID-19 this past year, New Zealand has had 25,” said Osterholm.  

He goes on to mention how the people of New Zealand took fighting COVID-19 more seriously by embracing lockdown and social distancing. Osterholm even mentions people were paid to stay at home during the pandemic, and now life for New Zealanders is pretty much back to normal. 

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