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Group for the Scientific Monitoring of COVID-19: After Two and a Half Intense Years, It Is Time to Take Stock

Balance GCMSC

Can anything positive come out of a pandemic? The members of the Multidisciplinary Collaborative Group for the Scientific Monitoring of COVID-19 (GCMSC) say yes. This text has been prepared by the group.


In September 2020, encouraged by the management of ISGlobal and the Barcelona Medical Association, eight medical doctors from different specialties and two biologists formed the GCMSC. Our aim was to identify questions of particular interest to public health that required in-depth consideration in order to provide answers based on the best available scientific evidence. Since then, we have met regularly (always online!) and produced a series of documents (16 reports or communiqués to date), which have been openly published on the ISGlobal website and distributed to the decision-making bodies of the Catalan Government's Department of Health.

As we enter the spring of 2023, the scenario is far from what we experienced in 2020 and 2021. Although COVID-19 is still circulating and the infection has left an indelible mark on many people, we are no longer in an emergency situation. In recent meetings of the group, we have begun to identify what we have learned during this historic, shocking and painful time. Is there anything positive to take away? With this in mind, each of us has made an appraisal of the experience lived, both within the group and at the local level.


The Emotion of Social Gratitude

Josep Maria Miró is a Senior Consultant in Infectious Diseases at the IDIBAPS Hospital, Professor of Medicine at the University of Barcelona. Vice-President of the GCMSC and President of the COVID-19 treatment committee of CatSalut.

Miró recalls the uncertainty of facing an unknown challenge, the teamwork and the personal risks of exposing oneself to a virus that had no known cure and caused high morbidity and mortality, especially among the elderly. What was particularly exciting was "the phenomenon of social gratitude towards the health professionals, which had never happened before and which I believe will never happen again". Miró recalls the great challenge of identifying real medical advances and implementing them in the community with more benefits than risks. Like all members of the GCMSC, he particularly acknowledges the technical ability to develop vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 in such a short time. The vaccines proved to be safe and effective for global use, "a fact that changed the course of the pandemic and allowed us to return to a new normal".

Face Masks Are Here to Stay

Mireia Sans is a primary care family doctor and assistential director at the CAP Borrell in the city of Barcelona.

Sans recalls the negative feelings of the first phase: uncertainty, disbelief, fear, worry, overwork, loneliness, isolation, fatigue, disillusionment, the invisibility of primary care... Feelings that were replaced by the ability to adapt, professional commitment, constant effort, companionship, professionalism and solidarity, "gradually recovering the essence and values of our profession". In terms of management, Sans highlights the great capacity for work, creativity and leadership in providing care for patients with and without COVID-19, carrying out telematic consultations, organising mass screenings, monitoring schools and residences, and integrating and training new professionals. She also recalls the challenges of returning to a normality that was not quite normal, and of reconciling the gradual reinstatement of face-to-face and non-face-to-face healthcare activities. She hopes that one of the legacies of COVID-19 will be the use of face masks, which should remain. She also hopes that vaccinations will be maintained as a preventive measure.

An Acceleration in Digital Health

Carles Brotons is a primary care doctor at EAP Sardenya in the city of Barcelona.

Brotons adds that there has been an unprecedented acceleration in digital health. For example, the massive use of tools such as "La Meva Salut" in Catalonia or telemedicine, which prevented the system from collapsing at the time, and the digitalisation of many healthcare processes. Brotons also recalls the accelerated learning of lung ultrasound in primary care to detect early lesions in patients and quickly refer them to the hospital. He agrees with Sans that the current challenge is to manage patients with long COVID-19 in coordination with hospital specialists, and to strengthen research in this area. 

Collaboration Between Different Disciplines

Julià Blanco is a biochemist and immunologist at IrsiCaixa-IGHTP.

Blanco highlights three words of the GCMSC that "define our work and our contribution to the pandemic”: collaborative, multidisciplinary and scientific. He emphasises that, from the smallest corner of the most remote laboratory in the world, the entire scientific community has worked to find answers to COVID-19. As a researcher, "At times, I have felt the anxiety of having to communicate certainties that I did not have, but thanks to the enormous effort of the scientific community, together we have contributed positively to the pandemic response".

The Value of Teamwork

Magda Campins is an epidemiologist at the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona.

Campins stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly the worst public health crisis of the 21st century. "The general feeling among hospital professionals was one of great anxiety and helplessness in the first months, as we had to respond to the community with direct actions. The capacity for self-management and the involvement of all the centres, both public and private, made it possible to respond quickly to the great demand for care, which was increasing day by day. "Teamwork was one of the aspects of this pandemic that I appreciated the most. The creation of groups such as the GCMSC and the COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Committee of Catalonia has allowed us to share knowledge and reflections, and to produce position papers or consensus documents, which I believe have been useful for decision-making and for many citizens throughout the pandemic".

Science Does Not Have Immediate Answers to Everything

Quique Bassat is a paediatrician. ICREA researcher at ISGlobal.

Bassat highlights the communication work done by scientists to explain in real time what was happening. Never before had the scientific debate occupied prime time slots, and for such a long time! "The fact that scientists were consulted to give their opinion and critically evaluate the health policies and decisions being taken is a sign of social and political maturity, and a normalisation of the fact that science can and should contribute to decision-making. It has also normalised the fact that science does not have immediate answers to everything, and that in many cases an answer of "we don't know" is valid and necessary to generate new hypotheses. Without this, at a time when denialism and quackery are more prevalent than ever, "we run the risk of decision-making being influenced by those who do not have the credentials to be heard".

Bridging the Gap between Science and Society

Juana Díez is a virologist at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

Díez also emphasises the importance of communication. "The pandemic has made me more aware of the need to continue communicating and explaining science and the scientific method to society. The spread of disinformation about the pandemic is fuelled by this distance between science and society. She hopes that another lesson learned from the pandemic will be the need to develop plans at the global level to ensure a more equitable distribution of vaccines within and between countries in future health emergencies.

Decisions that Do More Good than Harm

Adelaida Sarukhan is an immunologist and science writer at ISGlobal.

Sarukhan recalls that the GCMSC was born at a time when the world was still semi-paralysed, but the science on COVID-19 was advancing at a frenetic pace. The aim was to review the knowledge that was being generated, analyse it from different perspectives and communicate it clearly and concisely to guide decision-making. "It is difficult to measure the real impact of our work, but the GCMSC documents have been downloaded 56,000 times and have been mentioned repeatedly in the media". In any case, the experience has taught her two lessons. First, that "our role as a group is to provide the best scientific evidence, but decision-making must also consider social and economic factors so that, in the end, it does more good than harm". The second lesson is that a diverse group of people works brilliantly if there is respect, rigour and a willingness to put personal interests aside for the common good.

Less Alone in Very Difficult Times

Silvia de Sanjosé is an epidemiologist at ISGlobal. President of the GCMSC.

Sanjosé believes that bringing together experts who analyse a problem- in this case COVID-19- from different angles but with the same scientific rigour, is the best way to contribute to decision-making. "As a group, we have become stronger and have been able to work together to understand the causes of COVID-19 and how to mitigate its damage. I am proud to be part of the GCMSC for all that we have learned and for being an example of scientific collaboration when it was needed most. What impressed me greatly during this time was seeing the COVID-19 vaccines developed in record time and, with the GCMSC, analysing and sharing their impact on our population.

Overall, we all agree that the arrival of the vaccines was a great scientific milestone and the most eagerly awaited moment. Great joy, euphoria, excitement and shared hugs are the feelings that best define the launch of the vaccination campaign.

On a personal level, participating in the GCMSC has been a highly positive experience for all of us who sign this post, and has allowed us to feel less lonely in very difficult moments.


Members of the GCMSC: Julià Blanco, Adelaida Sarukhan, Juana Díez, Quique Bassat, Magda Campins, Robert Guerri, Carles Brotons, Mireia Sans, Josep M Miro, Silvia de Sanjosé.