Coronavirus Covid-19

Cambridge conversations 17th April 2020 – exit strategy?

As an alumnus, I had the opportunity today (with 2000 other people in over 60 countries) to attend a Cambridge University webinar on the current pandemic crisis. It was moderated by Chris Smith, a consultant medical virologist and lecturer at Cambridge (and a presenter on where more about this event will be found).

The experts presenting were Dr Nick Matheson, a Principal Investigator in Therapeutic Immunology, and Honorary Consultant at Addenbrookes Hospital, and Prof. Ken Smith, Professor in Medicine at Cambridge, and Director of Studies for Clinical Medicine at Pembroke College.

The video of the 45 minute session is available, and I will share it here in due course (it’s only on a closed group at the moment, but will be on the Cambridge YouTube channel next week) but of most interest to me, since I was interested in the modelling of the pandemic outbreak, was the following slide put up by Nick Matheson, depicting research by Neil Ferguson’s group at Imperial College, and also by the research group at Harvard University School of Public Health. Here it is:

Modelling showing repeated cycles of Pandemic in response to lockdown changes

It seems to me that as the Neil Ferguson group is involved with this (and the Harvard slide seems to corroborate something similar) it is likely that the UK Government is receiving the same material.

I am generally in support of not forecasting or detailing any imminent reduction in lockdown measures, and I can see from this why the Government (led by the science) might be pretty reluctant too.

You will know from my previous posts on this topic why the R0 number is so important (the Reproductive Number, representing the number of people one person might infect at a particular time). Sir Patrick Vallance (CSA) has mentioned several times that there is evidence that is R0 is now below 1 (on the 16th April he actually said it was between .5 and 1) for the general population (although not so in care homes and hospitals, probably).

He and Prof. Chris Whitty (CMO) (an epidemiologist) have also been saying (and so have Government, of course, on their advice) that they don’t want to reduce restrictions yet, in order to avoid a second peak of cases.

But from the Imperial College and Harvard research (mathematical modelling, presumably, on the basis of “non-pharmaceutical” likely actions that might be taken from time to time to control the outbreak) it would seem that we are in for multiple peaks (although lower than the first we have experienced) going well into 2021, and into 2022 in the case of the Harvard chart.

I was one of a very large number of people putting in a written question during the webinar, and mine was regarding the assumptions here (in the modelling) about the likelihood (or otherwise) of a vaccine on the one hand, and repeat infections on the other.

It might be that any vaccine might NOT confer long lasting immunity. It might even be that, like Dengue Fever, there will be NO vaccine (this was stated verbally in the Q&A by Prof. Ken Smith).

All very sobering. And I haven’t been drinking. Here is the full slide set:

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