Columbia Virologist Speaks on the Pandemic

by Angelia Lobifaro

3 mins read
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Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a virologist at Columbia University, gave his thoughts on the pandemic through a virtual talk organized by the biological honors society TriBeta this last week. Racaniello expressed confidence in mRNA vaccines and busted some common myths that have circulated on the news. He also discussed his work with the polio virus in the 1980s and how he is currently educating the public through his podcast, This Week in Virology

Racaniello said, “Scientists need to communicate because the press doesn’t always get it right.”

Racaniello said he is impressed with the scientific community for developing the vaccines for COVID-19 so quickly.

“That we could do this in less than a year is really astounding,” said Rancaniello. He also said that he has faith in the mRNA-based vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna, which are over 90 percent effective and have only mild side-effects, with severe reactions being very rare.

He highlighted that the Astrazeneca is not an mRNA vaccine, and hypothesized that that could be a reason for why recipients in Europe are experiencing severe side effects, since Astrazeneca is one of the more prominent vaccines being used there, although it has not been approved in the U.S. Rancaniello said that the side-effects associated with Astrazeneca aren’t helpful to campaigns lobbying for vaccination, as anti-vaccine sentiment is rising. 

He assured that Sars-CoV-2 was not created in a lab nor did it originate in Wuhan. 

“It just started to spread there first,” Racaniello said. He added that he is fairly certain that the virus originated in bats, similar to other coronaviruses. 

In fact, Racaniello believes that the pandemic could have been prevented since we have been aware that bat-originating viruses can infect humans for years now. He said, “We all should be outraged.” 

Racinello paired his presentation with a powerpoint filled with graphics to support all of his points. He was recruited to speak at Drew by his colleagues, professors Dr. MIller, Dr. Barker, and Dr. Dunaway from the biology department. 

Racaniello ended his presentation with a grim outlook for the future, saying that he is confident that there will be another pandemic.

 “Will we be ready? I’m hopeful, but I don’t have a lot of faith to be frank,” the virologist said.

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