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Emanuel said that a second wave of coronavirus infections is inevitable. (Photo by Samuel Masinter | CC BY 3.0)

Professor Ezekiel Emanuel warned of a second wave of United States coronavirus infections at a virtual Perry World House event on Wednesday morning.

Emanuel, the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Penn, and healthcare advisor to the Obama administration, discussed various reopening strategies before 300 students, parents, and University alumni. He warned viewers to be skeptical of the possibility that a vaccine will be ready by the end of this year. 

In the event co-hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Emanuel said the next six months are a good time to open up because the virus spreads slower in warmer temperatures and outdoor spaces. He said, however, a second wave of coronavirus infections is inevitable.

“We are going to get comfortable. We are going to see a little bit of complacency. We are going to see the flu season,” Emanuel said.  

For schools to reopen in the fall, Emanuel said they must be able to implement similar measures to those involved in Denmark’s reopening strategy. Danish schools, which reopened in April, have set up mobile classrooms, cut class sizes in half, and enforced social distancing guidelines. Emanuel said these measures may be difficult to replicate in the United States, however, because of state governments’ limited financial means.

Despite acknowledging the possibility that coronavirus therapeutics may be released by the fall, Emanuel said viewers should be skeptical of the quick development of vaccines. He cited U.S. biotech company Moderna as an example, which released limited data about its experimental vaccine on Monday.  The company said the vaccine induced immune responses in eight patients during its first human study.

“Let me be cynical about Moderna here. It’s not the way scientists release data,” Emanuel said. “Who knows how selective it was? I wouldn’t sell your fortune to buy that stock.”

According to Moderna's vaccine data, although all 45 study participants developed antibodies that neutralize the coronavirus, the company only provided detailed data for eight volunteers.

Emanuel said he believes that, while Moderna’s study proves creating a coronavirus vaccine is possible, the earliest a vaccine could be released is 2021.   

President Trump claimed a vaccine will be ready by the end of this year, which Emanuel disputed during the event. In a PWH event last month, Emanuel also criticized the Trump Administration for a short-sighted response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The event was moderated by Perry World House Director Michael Horowitz and Karen Donfried of the U.S. German Marshall Fund, who determined discussion topics from a collection of questions submitted by audience members.   

"We have 75-100 serious vaccine candidates," Emanuel said. "We probably have more brainpower working on a vaccine for this than we've had on almost any other major biological initiative, maybe separate from the human genome project."