Statistical preparedness in a pandemic: meeting report

On Wednesday 9 June 2021 the RSS North Eastern Local group hosted a meeting on 'Statistical preparedness in a pandemic' given by Professor Deborah Ashby, director of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. The talk took place online with an attendance of 45 and was also recorded for the RSS YouTube channel.

Professor Deborah Ashby is Director of the School of Public Health at Imperial College London where she holds the chair in medical statistics and clinical trials. In 2019 she was the president of the Royal Statistical Society and her many accomplishments include sitting on the UK Commission on Human Medicines, acting as adviser to the European Medicines Agency and in 2009 was awarded an OBE for services to medicine.

Deborah’s interesting talk gave the audience an overview of how preparedness in areas such as modelling and trials helped with the Covid-19 response in the UK. Deborah began by explaining how important the modelling of the pandemic was, particularly in the early months of 2020, and how expertise and knowledge of previous epidemics helped tremendously. This led to non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as lockdowns and working from home to help bring the infection rates to manageable levels.

Surveillance and tracking of infection rates through national surveys were also discussed and Deborah went on to explain how antibody testing and symptom reporting were used in reconstructing the epidemic curve in past months. Trials of therapies were then laid out including the use of adaptive trials, where three national trials were highlighted looking at therapies in; higher risk patients in the community, patients in hospital and critically ill patients. The vaccination rollout was also described were Deborah showed the audience some interesting data of antibodies after a single vaccine dose and whether people were suspected of having Covid-19 previously or not.

Finally, Deborah explained the important role of the RSS and setting up of the RSS Covid Task Force and concluded her fascinating talk with what we can learn from the pandemic, including investing in public health data, publishing evidence clearly and openly and challenging the misuse of statistics when we can.

The talk was followed by a discussion.

Watch a video of the meeting on our YouTube channel.

Aamir Khan, lecturer at Newcastle University and secretary of the RSS North East local group.

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