Skip to Main Content

Science Guides the Way Through the Pandemic to a Happier and Healthier Future for All

December 18, 2020
by Rick Harrison

Progress toward wide deployment of one or more vaccines to protect against the virus that causes COVID-19 continues, marked by accelerated efforts but also strict safety standards.

Doctors treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients have learned hard lessons and evolved treatments to drive down the mortality rate.

Schools, particularly elementary schools, do not appear to be at risk for becoming hot spots for spreading the infection throughout their communities. People very rarely get the infection a second time.

And studies show that universal mask use can save lives.

Science, through careful investigation of these and other pressing health questions, is leading the way to a better future. One in which COVID-19 is contained and people are free to work and play in ways at least similar to times before the pandemic.

However, this global health crisis has also revealed and exacerbated existing inequities in our health care system. The long-term impact of the disease on individual health and the economy is unclear. The climb ahead remains steep and long.

For example, recent reports reveal a clear spike in symptoms of depression, with one Journal of the American Medical Association study from September finding that adults in the United States reported symptoms at rates three times as high as before the pandemic. Another survey conducted in April and May showed that 40 percent of women reported concerns about their mental health, a rate 13 points higher than men. Black and Hispanic respondents reported mental health concerns about 10 percentage points higher than White respondents.

COVID-19 has also increased the risks of domestic violence and driven a rise in eating disorders —problems that largely affect women and girls. Experts have blamed isolation of elderly people during the pandemic for an increase in deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, which affect women more than men.

Back to the good news. Women’s Health Research at Yale has moved quickly to fill needed gaps in the current medical research landscape. With 23 years of experience in propelling science to address overlooked and understudied needs, the center has marshaled resources and mobilized experts to confront the challenges COVID-19 presents.

For example, WHRY launched the first study to successfully identify sex differences in the body’s immune response to the coronavirus, a finding that lead researcher Dr. Akiko Iwasaki is now exploring as it relates to “long-haul” COVID-19 patients who experience incapacitating symptoms for weeks or longer after recovering from the acute disease.

The center is also tackling the mental health toll on the health care providers tasked with treating COVID-19 patients, exploring for the first time how gender and race intersect in psychological resilience so that prevention and treatment strategies can be shaped for maximum individual impact.

Importantly, WHRY continues to broaden efforts to improve the health of women and explore the effects of sex and gender on a wide variety of diseases and conditions through new and ongoing studies on Alzheimer’s disease, non-opioid pain relief, domestic violence, and so many other problems that have only come into sharper relief this year.

A global survey conducted before and after the pandemic hit showed that 90 percent of those responding now trust science and scientists. About 55 percent said that the pandemic has made them more likely to defend and promote science, with 77 percent now supporting increased science funding.

This is good news. For Women’s Health Research at Yale, for science, and for the future of the world.

Submitted by Rick Harrison on December 17, 2020