Updated: Aug 26, 2020
By Ann Kim, Communications Editor
Ann Kim: How specifically have you dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic through your job/occupation?
Justin Cordero: I’ve become even more familiar with the world of medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic. My mental health was tested during these unprecedented times. After getting kicked out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in the middle of the semester, I arrived home feeling listless and without direction. Each day was a volatile mix of emotions, not least because both of my parents are frontline physicians during this pandemic. Concern for my parents’ health took a heavy toll on my emotional well-being, and although I was proud of my parents’ roles in taking care of COVID-19 patients, the uncertainty was debilitating. I lost a lot of sleep and struggled to concentrate on my already-disordered academics.
However, I’ve learned that periods of upheaval and change are enormous opportunities for personal growth. While I cannot predict the spread of the virus, I can absolutely control how I respond to the situation.
During lockdown, I chose to focus on my own mental health by exercising and keeping in touch with my friends who helped assure me that I was not alone in dealing with the pandemic. Despite being terrified about my parents’ health, I paid the emotional assurance forward by supporting my mother and father in any way I could. I listened to their personal struggles as they recounted how Intensive Care Units, ICUs, were reaching capacity, developing a fuller recognition of the sacrifice that healthcare workers make every day.
With all these emotions during the outbreak, I developed a greater appreciation for what I have and understood how healthcare workers are the most valuable resource for health.”
Besides this, I am applying to medical school in the middle of this pandemic. It definitely adds more stress because it is harder to focus with everything going on, but the medical schools have pushed back some deadlines to help alleviate some of the stress.
AK: What is something you think people ought to know about COVID-19?
JC: Something that I think people ought to know is that making a vaccine is not easy. Each phase in itself can take a while, but scientists are doing what they can to help speed up the process.
The clinical trial process is designed to test whether new vaccines are both safe and effective before making them available to the public. The process typically involves several phases and takes approximately ten years, but governments and industry are making efforts to expedite the process, and even intersperse animal testing throughout, while maintaining safety and efficacy standards, as follows:
Phase I: A small study in healthy people that evaluates the vaccine for safety and immune response at different doses. For COVID-19 trials, this is expected to take three months; it can typically take one to two years.
Phase II: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study of hundreds of people that further evaluates safety, assesses efficacy, and informs optimal dose and vaccine schedule. For COVID-19 trials, this is expected to take eight months; it can typically take two to three years.
Phase III: A randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study of thousands of people that evaluates safety and efficacy. For COVID-19 trials, this may be combined with Phase II; it can typically take two to four years.
Regulatory review: The governmental body that approves new vaccines reviews the trial data and other information in the licensing application. This typically takes one to two years but is likely to be expedited to take only a few months.
Phase IV: Post-approval studies that monitor effectiveness in real world conditions.
AK: What long term effects of COVID-19 (if any) do you foresee?
JC: I think that there will be a drastic effect on economies worldwide. At least for the U.S., a lot of smaller and local businesses will not be able to survive the financial hit they received as a result of this pandemic. The closing of non-essential stores has and will put a lot of companies out of business, leading to people losing their jobs.
AK: How has the pandemic affected your lifestyle?
JC: The pandemic has made me more dependent on technology. I have had to adapt to online college courses over Zoom and figure out how to learn on my own from my bedroom. Now more than ever, I am on my phone or laptop staring at a screen all day.
One good thing is that I have learned how to cook for myself while I’m at home and my parents are working. I’ve been able to take the time to look into different recipes and try new foods that I have never eaten before.