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First Person: Virologist Stanley Perlman Reflects On A Year Of COVID04:38
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A medical worker administers a test for COVID-19 at a facility in Camden, N.J., April 1, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP)
A medical worker administers a test for COVID-19 at a facility in Camden, N.J., April 1, 2020. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Over the past year and several months, On Point has heard from health experts around the world who've helped us make sense of the pandemic.

For the next few weeks, in a special edition of First Person, we'll check back in with experts we've leaned on for COVID expertise, to hear what this past year has been like for them personally.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Dr. Stanley Perlman [is] a professor of microbiology, immunology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa. He has studied coronaviruses for nearly 40 years. And he joined us last year to discuss the virology and serology of the coronavirus.

CHAKRABARTI: And now, more than a year later, [we] caught up with him ... about the year he has had. And we started our conversation by asking him about what the most challenging part has been for him with this once-in-a-century pandemic.

STANLEY PERLMAN: Probably from a personal point of view, as I had two members of my family die from COVID-19. So I would think that would have to be right up there as the hardest moments. One of them, he lived in New York and he was in one of those senior centers where the virus was rampant. And the people who took care of him, his family in New York, wasn't able to visit him because of all the quarantining.

PERLMAN: So that's probably the hardest, personally. Equally professionally, this is an extension, seeing all the people who became ill and died from the disease. Just seeing that as a physician or as a person, I don't have to be a physician. It was just heartbreaking. And then, you know, some of the ways that the U.S. managed the infection were less than ideal. And contributed to a lot of the extra infections that we saw. So there was just a lot that was really hard over the next year.

PERLMAN: At the end of this all, I think the fact that scientifically we're going to have new ways of investigating, particularly vaccines that will be helpful against many pathogens. Personally, I'm much more aware of the potential to obtain, to become ill even, from getting a cold or some other illness by being around people who are not obviously infected. So what this does is, I don't know what it does exactly. Because I don't want it ... when things return to normal to actually affect my feelings about going to a restaurant or another common facility. But I may be thinking about it much more.

PERLMAN: If somebody comes into my laboratory and has a cold, I will probably send them home. In fact, I will send them home. Because we know now that it's so easy for these infections to spread. A cold is a cold, but I think one wants to be careful with all these kind of respiratory illnesses.

PERLMAN: I'm a member of the FDA committee that evaluates vaccines, as well as the CDC committee that helps figure out vaccine allocation. And I think the moments of joy, the professional ones, were hearing about the vaccine roll out, hearing about their efficacy. The results from the first RNA vaccine trials were so much better than anyone could have predicted. They were really exciting. So that to me was probably, professionally was the most exciting thing.

PERLMAN: And then having the roll out of the vaccine so people could get vaccinated. And seeing the country slowly wake from its slumber of COVID-19 was really a good thing. In some senses, I think we're awakening a little too quickly now because we're not really over this pandemic. But all these positive signs are, I think, really heartwarming and good.

In this diary ... we hear from:

Stanley Perlman, professor of microbiology, immunology and pediatrics at the University of Iowa. He has studied coronaviruses for nearly 40 years. (@UIowaMicrobio)

This segment aired on June 8, 2021.

Tim Skoog Sound Designer and Producer, On Point
Tim Skoog is a sound designer and producer for On Point.

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