Congrats to GMU Biodefense Graduates and Award Recipients!
While they won’t get to walk across the stage and celebrations are being done virtually, we are so proud of our new Schar School Biodefense graduate students who have completed their studies and are already out on the frontlines working to combat COVID-19. Our new PhD graduates are Ashley Hess, Margaret Midyette, Katherine Paris, and Saskia Popescu. New graduates of the MS program include Daniel Cooper, Edward Cope, Joseph DeFranco, Michael Krug, Alexandra Pugh, Georgia Ray, and Hwa Yun. We’re also excited to announce that Maliheh Bitaraf, Diana Ciricean, and John Kisko have just completed their Biodefense certificates. Congrats! During this graduation, three students are presented with Graduate Student Awards and we’re proud to announce that Michael Krug is the 2020 Outstanding Biodefense MS Student, Saskia Popescu is the Outstanding Biodefense PhD Student, and Yong-Bee Lim has received the Frances Harbour Award. Read more about our recipients here.
‘I Can’t Turn My Brain Off’: PTSD and Burnout Threaten Medical Workers
Though health care workers were already vulnerable to depression and suicide, the additional stress of COVID-19 further threatens their mental health as signs of stress- and trauma-related disorders rise. This New York Times piece by Jan Hoffman highlights how our health care heroes are hurting under the weight and losses from COVID-19. In tandem, a commentary by GMU’s own Madeline Roty describes the criticality of prioritizing the mental health of health care workers in and out of crises. The recent suicides of Dr. Lorna Breen and EMT John Mondello are heart-wrenching wakeup calls about the insufficient resources and support for the mental health of medical workers. Existing resources have experienced a surge in demand since the pandemic started as workers struggle with increased duties ands stress regarding the care of their patients, while being denied sufficient access to PPE and proper training for new policies and protocols. Additionally, workers suffer from the disconnect between themselves and their social networks – families, friends, and physical contact with both. The therapeutic power of a loving hug is no longer an option at the end of a grueling, and likely long, shift. The full article is available here.
The Coronavirus Chronicles
We recently introduced our new series, The Coronavirus Chronicles, which is a collection of stories, based on the personal and professional experiences of the faculty, students, and alumni of the Biodefense Graduate Program, about life during the pandemic. From lab safety to parenting and even healthcare work, The Coronavirus Chronicles have detailed the lives of so many of our students and alumni working in COVID-19 response. We hope these stories help the public better understand the challenges posed by COVID-19 and how current and former members of the Biodefense Graduate Program have responded to these challenges and contributed to the pandemic response at the local, national, and international levels. This week, we’re launching a new story by biodefense graduate student Madeline Roty, who discusses the psychology effects of virus outbreaks. As you read above, this is a very real issue and extends beyond healthcare workers. Roty notes that “Fear of infecting others and time in quarantine or isolation contribute to psychological distress. Some healthcare workers have been forced to quarantine due to exposure to the virus or isolate after becoming infected. Many others are choosing to adhere to a modified quarantine in which they go to work but separate themselves from family, even in the absence of a known exposure.” Read her analysis into mental health and outbreaks here.
The Future Bioweapons Threat: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic
Looking for a webinar to discuss lessons learned from COVID-19 and the implications for bioweapons threat analysis? The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) is thrilled to present its first LIVE webinar on May 28 from 3:00-4:30pm EST, which will examine the future bioweapons threat from the perspective of the COVID-19 pandemic. Panelists include Max Brooks, author of World War Z and Devolution, Nonresident Fellow at The Modern War Institute and Atlantic Council, Honorable Andrew C. “Andy” Weber, Senior Fellow at Council on Strategic Risks, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs at the Pentagon, GMU Biodefense alum Dr. Saskia Popescu, Epidemiologist and Senior Infection Preventionist, HonorHealth, and Dr. Alexander Titus, Chief Strategy Officer, Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute and Senior Fellow at Council on Strategic Risks. Register for event here.
Everyone Wins from Vaccine Cooperation
In a time of increasing finger-pointing, the best chance we have at a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is likely through international coordination and cooperation. Dr. Kendall Hoyt, friend of GMU Biodefense, worked with Susan Athey and Michael Kremer to discuss the critical need for vaccine cooperation on international levels. Vaccine R&D isn’t easy and frankly, incurs a lot of risk. “The best way to manage these risks is to collaborate. Multilateral investment in a diversified portfolio of vaccine candidates would help to scale up production capacity as soon as a vaccine’s safety and efficacy have been established. Provided that much remains unknown about the novel coronavirus, we estimate that an investment of about $145 billion (.17% of world GDP) would be ideal, but that a program just half that size would yield substantial benefits. Although the United States and China are pursuing individual investment strategies, both could still advance their own national interests through international collaboration, either by way of the ACT Accelerator or via pooled contracts negotiated directly between countries and firms.” As the authors emphasize, global coordination doesn’t just reduce risk through managing supply chain disruptions, but also ensures export controls don’t interfere and ultimately, the benefits can be more broadly distributed.
Planning for a COVID-19 Vaccination Program
A commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a group of medical doctors at Children’s National Hospital urge the public health community to initiate a proactive educational campaign to inoculate both the general public and health care workers against misinformation about the imminent COVID-19 vaccine. More specifically, this campaign should engage via traditional (television, radio, print ads) and social media platforms immediately to monitor, counter, and prevent the dissemination of false beliefs regarding the forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine. The authors recommend four steps to promote widespread public acceptance of the vaccine: (1) rapid and equitable distribution of a vaccine immediately after confirmation of its efficacy and safety; (2) any plan for mass vaccination should address probable hurdles to vaccine acceptance using “linguistically and culturally competent messaging”; (3) public health leaders should design a robust COVID-19 vaccine educational campaign that incorporates social and traditional media, with foci on countering misinformation and leveraging the popularity of influencers; and (4) front line health care workers should be trained on how to convey strong recommendations for COVID-19 vaccine uptake. The article is available to read for free here.
Dr. Andrew Kilianski: Professor, Scientist, and Security Expert
Dr. Andrew Kilianski, an adjunct professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government’s Biodefense Graduate Program, is among the newly appointed experts leading the Department of Defense’s contribution to Operation Warp Speed, a public-private partnership to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics for use against COVID-19. Specifically, Dr. Kilianski was appointed the subject matter expert leading DOD’s support in the area of Security and Assistance for this new Manhattan Project-style initiative. His role will presumably relate to defending vaccine researchers and pharmaceutical firms against cyberespionage threats. US and British cybersecurity agencies have issued multiple warnings about attempts by countries such as China and Iran to hack universities and private firms in order to steal intellectual property related to research on COVID-19 medical countermeasures. According to Dr. Gregory Koblentz, Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at the Schar School, “Strengthening cyberbiosecurity is a vital element of our national effort to develop new vaccines and therapeutics against COVID-19. Dr. Kilianski’s appointment is a perfect illustration of how the Biodefense program tries to bridge the gap between science and policy.” Dr. Kilianski has been teaching courses on viral threat agents and biosurveillance for the Biodefense program since 2016. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced George Mason, and universities around the country, to shift to online teaching, Dr. Kilianski was already in the middle of teaching his virology course online. The Biodefense Graduate Program rotates all of its courses between being offered online and in-person, enabling students anywhere in the world to complete the entire Master’s degree online. The flexibility offered by online courses is not only good for students, but also allowed Dr. Kilianski to continue teaching even while he faced increased demands at work for his expertise. When classes resume in the fall, Dr. Koblentz noted, “Dr. Kilianski will be able to bring unique insights back into the classroom. Not everyone gets a professor with that kind of experience.” Since 2019, Dr. Kilianski has served as the Chief Intelligence Officer (CIO) for Chemical, Biological, Nuclear, and Radiological (CBRN) Defense for the Department of Defense. His previous work at DOD encompassed weapons of mass destruction, infectious diseases, and emerging biotechnology. Prior to joining DOD, Dr. Kilianski was a National Academy of Sciences Fellow with the US Army at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, where he conducted cutting-edge research on integrated biosurveillance and the identification and characterization of novel agents that threaten warfighters. Dr. Kilianski earned his PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from Loyola University Medical Center where he specialized in the study of coronaviruses. His scientific research has been published in an array of notable journals such as PLoS Pathogens, Journal of Virology, and Emerging Infectious Diseases. His research included the discovery of virus-host interactions necessary for coronavirus pathogenesis and research on vaccines and antiviral agents against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses.
A Healthy Dose of Realism: Stopping COVID-19 Doesn’t Start with the WHO
Dr. Frank Smith III, the director of the Cyber and Innovation Policy Institute (CIPI) at the US Naval War College, encourages a renewed viewpoint on the COVID-19 response and how to make progress. Smith proposes that states, leaders, and organizations abandon their mud-slinging behaviors toward the World Health Organization (WHO) and, instead, focus on leveraging international partnerships and cooperation to combat COVID-19. According to Smith, the WHO is a relatively weak entity that bows to the will of powerful states, thereby echoing the balance of power in the world. Instead of throwing stones at the WHO, focus should shift to power nation-states that can act swiftly and significantly. He encourages concerted action between the United States and China, following the footsteps of the unprecedented collaboration between the US and Russia in the smallpox eradication campaign. The full article is available here.
STGlobal Consortium Seeking Graduate Students for STS/STP Conference
The STGlobal Consortium is now seeking graduate student volunteers to serve on the planning committee for our 2021 STS/STP conference, to be held in April 2021 in Washington, DC. As you may know, the STGlobal Conference is a student-run and student-focused conference focused on the societal and policy aspects of science and technology, including such related concerns as sustainability, science communication, and science education. Programming will include opportunities for graduate students to present and receive feedback upon research in a friendly and collaborative environment; workshops for development of research and professional skills; and opportunities to connect with students, professionals, and organizations working in the aforementioned areas. Service on the planning committee offers students a valuable opportunity to gain experience in the organization and facilitation of an academic conference, as well as to communicate and collaborate with other students in their fields from across the United States and the world. If you know any graduate students who might be interested in serving this year, please pass on this message to them directly; and please feel free to disseminate this communication among your networks. Students who wish to participate should email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.