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No Crystal Ball

Healthcare  |  March 10, 2020 10:00am  |  By Joel Lee

The coronavirus has kept epidemiologists and public health officials guessing since late last year – about the nature and speed of its spread, about its virulence and about how best to blunt the epidemic. Based on the results of our February poll it remains largely unpredictable to leaders of the healthcare industry.

When asked to rate the threat in the United States from 1 to 5 (modest to dramatic) there was a broad range of responses. The average of all responses was 3.4 with the median value of 4 (widespread transmission with a moderate death rate). Only 11% felt the threat would be modest or mild. While 19% felt the threat would be dramatic.

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We asked the panel to predict when they thought an effective vaccine or anti-viral might be deployed. Just under 8% felt that a vaccine was imminent and likely by May of this year. The vast majority (78%) felt an effective vaccine would appear by late in the fall of 2020. Just under 15% forecast a vaccine no earlier than mid-2021.

The coronavirus has alarmed public health officials and their concerns and actions have, in turn, alarmed investors as the stock markets saw the biggest declines since 2008. We asked the panel whether the public health effects of the coronavirus or the economic impact would be most important in retrospect a year from now. 2 out of 3 healthcare leaders thought the impacts would be felt equally across economic effects and public health effects. More than 22% of the panel felt the economic impacts would outweigh the public health consequences.

The panel’s conclusions draw an interesting picture. The coronavirus is a national and international threat that will likely be contained and managed. There will be large scale infections but not widespread death. Our tools of vaccine engineering and anti-viral development will likely blunt the spread. But the economic costs in containment, in medical care and in lost productivity will be substantial.