Individual Response to COVID-19 'as Important' as Government Action

Although vaccine development is underway, the process can take at least a year before reaching in the mass-production stage.

How individuals respond to government advice on preventing the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) will be just as, if not more important, than government action, according to a new commentary from researchers at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London in the UK, and Utrecht University and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands.1

“Completing preventing infection and mortality is not possible, so this is about mitigation,” professor Dierdre Hollingsworth said in a press release. “Our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 will change over time, as will the response. High quality data collection and analysis will form an essential part of the control effort. Government communication strategies to keep the public informed will be absolutely vital.”1

Although vaccine development is underway, with the first clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine already taking place in the United States, the process can take at least a year before reaching in the mass-production stage. Therefore, social distancing is a vital measure that the public must take, including early self-isolation and quarantine, seeking remote medical advice, and not attending large gatherings.1,2

By following social distancing measures, the United States will be able to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of infection. Successfully doing so can avoid overwhelming health services, keep the impact on the economy to manageable levels, and effectively buy more time to develop and manufacture effective vaccines, treatments, and anti-viral drug therapies.1

The researchers further added that wider support for health service and health care workers during an epidemic or pandemic is vital in any case. For example, during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the death rate from other causes, such as malaria and childbirth, rose sharply due to overwhelmed health services.1

A recent press conference with officials from the World Health Organization touched on this subject, with Michael J. Ryan, MD, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Program, saying, “One thing we learned from the Ebola outbreak is that we need to react quickly. You need to go after the virus, stop the chains of transmission, engage with communities very deeply, need to coordinated and coherent, look at several impacts. It is essentially those same lessons, be fast, have no regrets, you must be the first mover. You need to be prepared.”3

In comparison with influenza-A and SARS, the researchers predict that the COVID-19 pandemic will spread slowly but last longer, which has economic implications. Although seasonal flu is limited by warmer weather, it is still unknown if this applies to COVID-19.1

Contact tracing will be one of the main priorities for researchers and policymakers, with models suggesting that 70% of people that an individual has come into contact with will need to be traced to control the early spread of the disease. Other priorities include shortening the time from symptom onset to isolation, supporting home treatment and diagnosis, and developing strategies to deal with the economic consequences of extended absence from work, according to the study authors.1

“Social distancing measures are societally and economically disruptive and a balance has to be sought in how long they can be held in place, said professor Hans Heesterbeek, of the Department of Population Health Sciences, in a press release. “The models show that stopping measures after a few months could lead to a new peak later in the year. It would be good to investigate this further.”1


  • Individual response to COVID-19 ‘as important’ as government action. University of Oxford. Published March 9, 2020. Accessed March 17, 2020.
  • Murphy, Jill. First Clinical Trial of COVID-19 Investigational Vaccine Begins in Seattle. Pharmacy Times. Published March 16, 2020. Accessed March 17, 2020.
  • Virtual Press Conference- 2019-nCoV- March 13, 2020. CDC. Live Stream; March 13, 2020. Accessed March 17, 2020.