HomepageNews“Dual Pandemic” Discussion Group Addresses COVID-19 and Inequity

“Dual Pandemic” Discussion Group Addresses COVID-19 and Inequity

Thirteen Summer Fellows representing a variety of majors participated in a weekly discussion regarding how the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated disparities already present in the U.S. and globally.

The discussion group, titled “Dual Pandemic: COVID-19 and Inequity,” was led by Professor of Biology Rebecca Lyczak, who is also chair of the department, and Assistant Dean of the College and Assistant Professor of Biology and Simara Price.

The group used short readings, podcasts, and data to jump-start discussion about topics such as the basic biology of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 disease; the new mRNA vaccines as compared to traditional vaccines; COVID-19 variants; vaccine hesitancy; and disproportionate impacts among different populations, including racial and ethnic groups.

The discussion group will be turned into a course for the spring 2022 semester to fulfill the core capstone requirement of the Quest curriculum, and helps students answer the question, “What will I do?” The course will be aimed at both science and non-science students, thus contributing to a college-wide goal of broader education in scientific citizenship.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is the importance of community and human connection,” said Lyczak. “The discussion group created community for the Summer Fellows separate from their own independent research community. It was wonderful to see students from different majors, who were focused on very different research questions in their work, come together and share their thoughts on a pressing issue. Since all communities are full of diverse opinions and ideas, this group allowed a space where they could share those thoughts and question each other to gain a better understanding of the issues.”

Zenya Yanoff ’22, a biochemistry and molecular biology major who is interested in the healthcare field, was inspired to join the group after taking “The Sociology of Health and Illness,” which touched on inequities in health and healthcare, last spring.

“This experience gave me a very thorough understanding on how the virus spreads, as well as how vaccination allows individuals to become protected,” said Yanoff. “We also discussed why vaccination is so important both in the United States and globally. With this understanding, I am confident in engaging in discussions with those around me who may be contemplating getting the vaccine because I can explain topics like vaccine development, viral mutation, and vaccination significance. Additionally, we had a conversation on what makes individuals more susceptible to disease and how, because of these disparities, minority groups tend bear a larger burden of infection and mortality. It is easy to see how disparities observed in the COVID-19 pandemic can be related to the bigger picture of health inequity in the United States.”

Chemistry major and math minor Ally St. Jean ’22 liked the informal format of the group. “I think this helped to create a sense of comfort in the classroom and encourage people to say what was on their mind.”

“I hadn’t thought that much about the widespread impact of COVID-19 and how the vaccine hesitancy is more than meets the eye. We had the opportunity on the last day to discuss in a small group how we should vaccinate the world. This had one of the biggest impacts on me as it allowed us to apply and carefully consider what we had already learned about the pandemic and its affects so far.”

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