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The Pandemic People: Professor Neil Ferguson

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Duration: 0:42:52 | Added: 28 May 2023
Sir Andrew Pollard's podcast features Professor Neil Ferguson, an expert in the mathematical modelling of infectious diseases. They discuss how mathematical models help understand disease transmission, vaccines, and immunity.

In this fascinating episode of Sir Andrew Pollard's podcast, he is joined by Professor Neil Ferguson, an expert in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases from Imperial College London. The conversation revolves around the use of mathematical models to understand the spread of infectious diseases in populations and how it impacts people and the healthcare system.

Professor Ferguson explains what a mathematical modeller is and how they use key data from around the world to identify trends and growth rates of transmission. He also discusses how they look at the impact of vaccines on disease transmission and bacteria, and the role of immunity. He emphasizes that underneath these three simple things, there is a scientific understanding, research, and data.

Further, Professor Ferguson delves deeper into the process of mathematical modelling and how they use 75% of existing data to understand how disease is transmitted, and the risk factors involved. The remaining 25% is used to inform control policies that governments around the world implement for a wide range of diseases. For example, he discusses the transmission of malaria between people and mosquitoes.

Professor Ferguson has wide experience working on infectious diseases such as Ebola, swine flu, and COVID-19, and he shares what information was needed to build mathematical models to understand how the pathogen and transmission spread was happening.

The conversation then shifts to COVID-19 and the decisions around pandemics, highlighting how heavily they rely on mathematical models and how it supported the decisions that were made. He also explains how mathematical models supported the World Health Organization and GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, with key information in vaccine rollouts, not only during the COVID-19 pandemic but even before, as was the case with Ebola in West Africa.

Professor Ferguson then talks about MERS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which is another coronavirus that emerged about 10 years ago, and how it was a warning bell that they were dealing with something quite different from the original SARS virus.

The conversation concludes with Professor Ferguson discussing how they updated their mathematical models in the peak of the pandemic when treatments, vaccines, and the behaviours of the virus had to be updated and changed as and when required. He emphasizes the fundamental need to learn in responding to new emerging infectious disease threats, threats from new viruses that may appear, causing an outbreak somewhere in the world. Overall, the conversation is highly informative, and the insights shared by Professor Ferguson give a clear understanding of the complex and vital work of mathematical modellers in fighting infectious diseases.

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