Infectious Disease

What impact did ID experts have on the COVID-19 pandemic?

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Disclosures:
The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.

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Key takeaways:

  • Infectious diseases physicians were on the front lines of the pandemic.
  • The infectious disease workforce helped reopen schools, gyms and workplaces, among other things, during the pandemic.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious disease experts made contributions to help control the outbreak and improve public understanding of the new disease.

Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and colleagues wrote in a recent paper that these efforts “went well beyond their usual responsibilities” and often led to hours of additional work without additional compensation.

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We spoke with Adalja about the impacts infectious disease (ID) experts had and what they mean for the future for both ID experts and potential pandemics.

Healio: What prompted this paper?

Adalja: The prompt for this paper — which is a distillation of a larger report — was the tremendous ID expertise the nation relied upon throughout the pandemic. This expertise was not just in-hospital treatment of patients but extended far outside hospital walls into communities and added much resiliency to communities and organizations. Often, this work was voluntary and uncompensated but so vital.

Healio: What were some of the most notable contributions the ID workforce made to the COVID-19 response?

Adalja: The ID workforce helped reopen schools, gyms and workplaces. Some ID physicians even helped sports teams, entertainment venues, consulted on movie filming and provided expert forecasting to financial firms.

Healio: What were the impacts of these contributions?

Adalja: It’s hard to quantify the impact, but it was core to resiliency and recovery of many communities and organizations.

Healio: What recommendations does the paper suggest to help fortify the ID workforce for future pandemics, and why is it important to do so?

Adalja: The recommendations are to recognize the enormous value that ID physicians provide to communities by making the specialty attractive to training physicians. ID is not a highly compensated subspeciality — paradoxically because it is a cognitive specialty and not one that is procedure based. The extra training, for example, an internal medicine physician undergoes to become an ID physician will actually lower their salary. The formula that the government and other payers employ undervalues ​​mental effort and must change. Loan repayment programs can also play a role.

Healio: Do ​​you think the US is in better shape for the next pandemic than it was before COVID-19?

Adalja: Although I think the pandemic opened people’s eyes to how calamitous and deadly a pandemic could be in the 21st century, complacency is already setting in. This is just not a priority for political leaders whose time horizon is just the next election. The missteps that occurred in the early mpox response illustrate this. However, there is hope that the public will demand competence in this field from governments because the pandemic’s toll was magnified by government failures at all levels.

Healio: What is the main take away from this paper?

Adalja: ID physicians are on all the front lines protecting individuals and society from the threat of infectious diseases. The modern human way of life is one in which an individual benefits from much that ID physicians do, even if they have never seen one for medical care.

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