COVID-19 Expert Jha Predicts 18-month Pandemic During Lee Lecture

Dr. Ashish K. Jha on a laptop screen.

The Fifth Annual Richard V. Lee, MD, Lecture in Global Health, presented by noted COVID-19 expert Dr. Ashish K. Jha, was a study in dichotomies.

“Our ability to make billions of doses is an enormous challenge. ”
Dr. Ashish K. Jha
Dean, Brown University’s School of Public Health

Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, leads national analysis of key COVID-19 issues and appears frequently in national news outlets. While predicting that the world is entering an “age of pandemics,” he also made a “bold and risky” prediction that the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic would be around 18 months. And, although the popular Lee Lecture traditionally takes place in person, this year’s virtual event allowed more than 500 people from around the globe to hear Jha speak.

Jha quickly put his stake in the ground with an admittedly “bold and risky” forecast that COVID-19 will be an 18-month pandemic. Right now, he said, “We’re at the bottom of the fifth inning of a nine-inning game.” Placing the beginning of the pandemic as Jan. 1, 2020—the day after China informed the World Health Organization of a new source of viral pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan—Jha believes the pandemic will be under reasonable control by—“optimistically”—June 2021.

By February/March, new technologies will lead to widespread testing, which will make an “enormous difference” in terms of how much protection exists in the community. Next, Jha said, is the emergency-use designation for possibly three or more vaccines. If 60 to 70% of people decide to get a vaccine that is 70 to 80% effective, with front-line and high-risk people getting vaccinated first, by June, “things could be measurably better.”

His timeline is specific to the U.S. and Europe. The timeline is longer for the rest of the world and largely depends on vaccine development: “Our ability to make billions of doses is an enormous challenge.” The development, manufacture, distribution and delivery of a vaccine or vaccines is a vital link in the chain of success, and Jha emphasized the need to get it done right.

Another key link is the public health field itself. While the whole world now understands the importance of the public health field, public health professionals also have to make sure to work with people outside of their discipline—education specialists, economists, sociologists, and others. The world is not going to leave the ultimate solution to the pandemic just to public health experts, so “we need to broadly engage people outside our field,” he added.

The Richard V. Lee Lectureship in Global Health is presented by the School of Public Health and Health Professions in memory of Lee, a former UB faculty member.