Meet the disease expert who’s been predicting a pandemic for years


By Sophia and Angelyn, 5th grade | June 2021 … Journalists at East Norriton Middle School recently had the chance to virtually interview Dr. Michael Osterholm, an international expert on disease outbreaks, about the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Osterholm has been predicting a pandemic for years.  

He described a pandemic — an infectious disease that spreads worldwide, causing many illnesses and deaths—as an “out-of-control wildfire” that can happen very quickly. Dr. Osterholm knows quite a bit about this pandemic, as he has had many roles in government and organizations preparing for and dealing with infectious diseases. He even was part of President Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board before he took office. 

But Dr. Osterholm said there are many things that have surprised him about COVID. One is that it was not an avian pandemic, an illness caused by birds. Instead, COVID-19 is believed to have started in bats. Dr. Osterholm also said he was surprised that the pandemic was caused by a coronavirus and not an influenza, or flu, virus. 

“There are times now where I feel like I know less about this virus than I did six months ago as we learn new things about it,” he told us in late April during a video conference call. He explained that many people are still trying to figure out more information about the different variants of the illness. 

Dr. Osterholm also said he doesn’t know when this pandemic will end, as more variants of the virus are discovered. These are forms of COVID-19 that have mutated and can cause different or worse symptoms. He said there is still much that is unknown about COVID-19 and its variants. He said he does believe this is a virus that will be here for many years. 

As for vaccines, Dr. Osterholm said scientists are trying to figure out whether people will need boosters or if a COVID shot will be annual, like the flu shot. Even with vaccines for COVID-19, Dr. Osterholm said this won’t be the last pandemic to hit the world. He said that to be better prepared, scientists need to be able to work more quickly on making successful vaccines. 

Dr. Osterholm said he was honored to be part of the effort to fight COVID-19 as a member of the Biden advisory board. Although the advisory board ended officially in January, he said the group still meets weekly and shares feedback with the administration. 

Dr. Osterholm also said there is no room for politics in science. He has worked with five different presidential administrations and said it doesn’t matter what political party someone belongs to. He said his job is just to be there and provide scientific advice.  

— Sophia and Angelyn are reporters for the East Norriton Bulldog Bulletin