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Renowned epidemiologist talks COVID-19 with Mighty Ninety

  • Published
  • By Airman Faith Iris MacIlvaine
  • 90MWPA

Dr. Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, provided a brief update to members of the Mighty Ninety on COVID-19 as part of the monthly women’s mentoring and networking session, March 15, 2022 on F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. 

Osterholm provided valuable public health updates and then opened the floor to conversation. One of his goals is to stress how important being fully vaccinated – three vaccination shots – is for readiness. 

“A fully protected individual should have the two primary and booster vaccines,” explained Osterholm, “I consider them to not be separate but instead the three primary vaccines.”

Leaders within the 90th raised questions during the video teleconference, curious as to how to navigate changing policy while ensuring their personnel were kept healthy.

“The name of the game for us is readiness,” said Col. Mike Power, 90th Maintenance Group commander. “What are appropriate things we can do to prepare or keep our people healthy?”

Osterholm encouraged everyone to take steps to protect themselves and encourage others to get fully vaccinated. 

“The most important thing is to get vaccinated and wear your M95 respirator,” said Osterholm. “Another crucial aspect to readiness is getting families vaccinated and we should be encouraging all those around us to be fully protected.

“Cloth face masks and surgical masks are not effective protective equipment, as COVID is largely transmitted by aerosol,” continued Osterholm. “Effective protection is very important, and we strongly urge people with compromised immunity to put on their own M95 respirator to reduce the risk of getting infected.”

Osterholm stressed the importance of the vaccine and use of protective equipment in limiting spread and severity, particularly in an environment where healthcare workers are stretched thin.

“We share a common goal called prevention where deterrence is everything, and I'm happy to be on the same prevention ship as you,” said Osterholm. “Out of 9 million healthcare workers, we have lost 1.85 million since the onset of COVID-19. Those who are fully vaccinated should have minor symptoms, which means them staying out of the hospital and minimal reduction in force even in a pandemic.”

Osterholm compared vaccines to a missile launch, explaining when the immune system is activated through a vaccine but the virus attacks, the missile may not launch. The booster dose turns on the missile part, making it fully able to launch when needed. 

“Our job is to look at the problem and get educated on it and we have to look ahead,” said Col. Catherine Barrington, 90th Missile Wing commander. “Dr. Osterholm, thank you for what you do and we really appreciate this opportunity to speak to you today.”

Osterholm is a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.  In November 2020, Dr. Osterholm was appointed to then President-elect Biden’s 13-member Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board.  Prior to that, he served as a Science Envoy for Health Security on behalf of the US Department of State. Dr. Osterholm is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and the Council of Foreign Relations. He has served on the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity, and the World Economic Forum Working Group on Pandemics.