AUA and UCLA Host Webinar on COVID-19 Variants, Vaccines, and Emerging Science
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YEREVAN, Armenia — On March 3, 2022, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Fielding School of Public Health (FSPH) and Armenian University of America (AUA) Turpanjian College of Health Sciences (CHS) launched their first Community of Practice event titled “The Global Picture of COVID-19: Variants, Vaccines, and Emerging Science.” The webinar brought together over 120 specialists from the public health community in Armenia, including public health professionals, physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, and policymakers.
The Community of Practice program is a new virtual platform that provides space for participants to receive continuing education and support, enhance their skills, and engage in open and up-to-the-minute discussions. This webinar offered an open space for providers to convene and discuss the global epidemiology of COVID-19, variants and vaccine coverage, lessons learned from Armenia and around the globe, and the emerging science on boosters, therapeutics, and other key preventive measures.
The event was organized by FSPH and CHS within the scope of the National Case Investigation and Contact Tracing Program for the Republic of Armenia (RA), which is being implemented in collaboration with the RA Ministry of Health and the RA National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The webinar was co-led by Dr. Alina Dorian, associate dean of Public Health Practice, associate professor at the UCLA FSPH, and lead of the UCLA project team, and Lusine Musheghyan, CHS research associate and lecturer and co-lead of the AUA project team.
The program featured Dr. Michael Reid, professor of Medicine at the Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Dr. Reid is a board-certified infectious disease physician, whose work and research in the field has had a global impact. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, his role has expanded to support COVID-19 related training and education activities across the state of California, and he now oversees a large pandemic-focused training initiative at UCSF.
During the webinar, Dr. Reid provided a general overview of the global epidemiology of COVID-19, including infection trends and vaccination coverage updates; discussed the Omicron variant and the insights gained by the global public health community; and presented on the emerging science regarding vaccines and therapeutics.
Dr. Reid went on to discuss lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years. He emphasized that although the pandemic did not come as a surprise, even better-prepared countries experienced a big learning curve and encountered unexpected challenges and losses while trying to overcome its effects. He underscored four main recommendations to improve preparedness for the next pandemic, including strengthening surveillance systems, focusing on a “one health” framework, acting on climate change, and rethinking global governance.
The presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session, during which participants had the opportunity to ask questions, engage with one another, share reflections, and provide relevant examples from their respective professional practices. As Dr. Reid opined, “a Community of Practice event like this can have a transformative impact — for sharing emerging science, providing support and solidarity, and catalyzing health system improvements at all levels of the healthcare system.”
During the early days of the pandemic, FSPH and CHS combined their efforts to establish the National Case Investigation and Contact Tracing Program for the Republic of Armenia, a collaborative initiative that aims to enhance the surge capacity of Armenia’s existing public health system and limit the spread and adverse effects of COVID-19 in Armenia. The program grew to also offer professional development training opportunities and continuous education, as well as additional support for Armenia’s public health sector in collaboration with partner agencies and other associated sectors. The program also helps raise public awareness of COVID-19 and preventive measures and ultimately addresses the overall current and future public health needs of the country.
“The Community of Practice program is yet another addition to this initiative which will be held on an ongoing basis to bring together public health professionals and encourage a new, innovative, and interactive platform for collaborating, learning, and dialoguing,” said Daniela Abrahamian, program manager from FSPH. “This is a great way for individuals across the globe to engage and share knowledge and resources, as well as build strong relationships and partnerships to effectively prepare for and combat current and forthcoming disasters, threats, and emergencies, while ensuring and promoting the health and wellbeing of all.”
The UCLA and AUA teams are committed to continuing ongoing training and scaling up the program in an effort to help Armenia address not only the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to prepare the country for a resilient future. This initiative is one of the many projects under the umbrella of the Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA, which aims to address the needs of Armenia and ensure the health and safety of the population.
The AUA Turpanjian College of Health Sciences works actively to improve population health and health services in Armenia and the region through interdisciplinary education and development of health professionals to be leaders in public health, health services research and evaluation, health care delivery, and management.