As there begins to be some hope that the world is starting to conquer the Covid-19 pandemic, SCoJeC hosted an interdisciplinary discussion on how Scotland, the wider UK, and Israel have responded to the crisis. We had a world-class panel of specialists with different perspectives on the pandemic and the road to recovery, and were joined by around 100 people, many of whom had submitted questions in advance.
The panel was chaired by Glasgow-born Gideon Greenspan, who is a software developer, lecturer, and the founder and CEO of Coin Sciences in Tel Aviv. Now living in Israel, Gideon has been closely following the COVID pandemic and was perfectly placed to open the evening with a short introduction to the similarities and differences between the approaches of the UK and Israeli government policies.
Our first speaker was Prof Jason Leitch, who, as Clinical Director of Healthcare and Strategy for the Scottish Government, is responsible for quality in the health and social care system in Scotland. Jason has become very well known to us all as the public face of Scotland’s response to the pandemic, and provided an overview of the global scale of the crisis – the previous worst emergency declared by the World Health Organisation resulted in around 6000 deaths worldwide; Covid has already killed well over that number in Scotland alone – as well as an insight into the strategy and timetable of Scotland’s vaccination roll-out.
Covering the UK perspective was Michael Livingston, Deputy Director of the COVID-19 Taskforce at the Cabinet Office. Another former Glaswegian, Michael is responsible for resolving regulations strategy, legal issues, and social contact policy in the task force coordinating the UK Government’s response to COVID-19. He directly advises the Prime Minister on these issues and leads their development and implementation across government.
Some of the medical issues around the implementation of policy were addressed by Prof David Katz, Emeritus Professor of Immunopathology at University College London (UCL) and editor of the International Journal of Experimental Pathology. David has spent his career researching dendritic cells, known as 'sentinels' of the immune system, and he explained how these identify new invaders and induce an immune response to them.
Our final speaker, to give us a comparative view from Israel’s medical system, was Dr Eyal Leshem, Clinical Associate Professor at Tel Aviv University School of Medicine, and Director of the Centre for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at the Sheba Medical Centre. As an expert on vaccine-preventable diseases, he showed how Covid-19 had spread differently in different social group,s and gave a detailed account of Israel’s world-beating vaccine programme and showed how this has helped to reverse the spread of the disease.
Following the presentations there was a wide-ranging discussion amongst the panellists around the questions that participants had submitted in advance. One interesting exchange shed light on the differing approaches in Israel and Scotland. Asked why Israel is recommending vaccinations for pregnant women but the UK is not, Jason Leitch said that in Scotland, they are comfortable with the safety profile of the vaccine, but because there have not been any large trials in pregnant women, are being slightly cautious and are undertaking individual risk assessments of pregnant women. By contrast, Eyal Leshem said that the policy in Israel was driven by concern that, if children brought the disease home from school, it could be very serious for pregnant women, so on balance, because it is not a live virus, they went ahead and recommended it.