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HSPH Faculty Will Help Launch New CDC Center for Disease Forecasting

Harvard School of Public Health epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch and postdoctoral research fellow Rebecca Kahn will help establish a new center dedicated to disease forecasting and outbreak analytics.
Harvard School of Public Health epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch and postdoctoral research fellow Rebecca Kahn will help establish a new center dedicated to disease forecasting and outbreak analytics. By Zadoc I. N. Gee
By Ariel H. Kim and Anjeli R. Macaranas, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard School of Public Health epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch and postdoctoral research fellow Rebecca Kahn will help establish a new center dedicated to disease forecasting and outbreak analytics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to an Aug. 18 press release from the School of Public Health.

With initial funding from the White House’s Covid-19 American Rescue Plan, the Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics will bring together public health professionals, emergency responders, and experts in disease modeling to help shape government policy regarding public health crises. Lipsitch and Kahn will serve as the center’s director of science and senior scientist, respectively.

One of the center’s goals is to leverage data analytics to help establish effective public health measures, according to Kahn.

“​The Covid-19 pandemic has identified a real need for figuring out how best to use data analytics modeling to inform decision-makers, and then help them make decisions to improve outbreak response,” Kahn said.

“It’s not only a scientific activity — it’s really a decision-informing activity, which is more targeted,” Lipsitch added.

Lipsitch also said the center hopes to synthesize and apply data from the current Covid-19 pandemic as well as previous health crises, including the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

“There are enormous amounts of data in many different places that we’re still beginning to appreciate where it all is and what it all is,” he said.

Upon collecting and analyzing this data, the center aims to disseminate these findings to businesses and nonprofits, as well as improve the accessibility of public health information to the broader public.

According to Lipsitch, an early motivation for the creation of the center arose from a conference in 2010, during which he realized there needs to be an increased focus on science that can better inform policies to control diseases.

The center aims to establish collaborations with other public health initiatives at the School of Public Health, including the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, where Lipsitch serves as director. These efforts, according to Lipsitch, will focus on training individuals to translate data analysis and disease modeling into public health policy recommendations.

“It’s redoubling our understanding of the need for more and better training, because there just aren't a lot of people out there who have the requisite mix of skills,” Lipsitch noted. “We need to expand that pool.”

The Center will also be led by Dylan George, who is a former vice president of biotechnology company Ginkgo Bioworks, and Caitlin Rivers, a Johns Hopkins Public Health School professor who wrote the original proposal for the center. George and Rivers will serve as the Center’s director of operations and associate director, respectively.

While pursuing their new roles at the CDC, Lipsitch and Kahn will both continue working part-time in their research and academic positions at HSPH.

—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at ariel.kim@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Anjeli R. Macaranas can be reached at anjeli.macaranas@thecrimson.com.

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HealthSchool of Public HealthSwine Flu