Matthew Edwards, Stuart McDonald, Nicola Oliver of the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group reflect on their 100th bulletin.
The pandemic has brought in its wake whole waves of new words, many technical, many just helping to make sense of it all – ‘unprecedented’ and ‘exponential’ spring to mind. One word which had been in vogue almost disappeared from our lips in 2020, but it underpins everything about the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group: ‘diversity’.
Diversity has been fundamental to our group in two respects. The first, and less obvious, aspect, is the diversity of problems, challenges and topics. What started off as a ‘classical’ pandemic analysis stayed that way for only weeks at most. Very quickly, the range of problems seemed to spread as fast as the virus itself. We soon found ourselves countering misinformation and working on problems such as data accuracy and case reporting, confounding risk factors, the life expectancy of octogenarian diabetics, behavioural economics, how the precautionary principle should be applied, how late reporting affects R calculations … and these were just the early months!
We have sought to tackle this diversity of problems with a wide-reaching diversity of people and talents in our group. While our ‘core’ is actuarial, from the outset we included medical experts, actuaries with epidemiological backgrounds, catastrophists – all from a range of working backgrounds (insurers, consultancies, reinsurers and others), and a range of countries. This wide-ranging group included people who had their own personal perspectives; one has an Italian wife from Lombardy, with relatives working in the worst-affected hospitals; another suffered from COVID-19 throughout most of April; others relayed reports of doctors they knew in some of London’s busiest hospitals. And we have all been stressed by the need to juggle ‘normal’ work, and in some cases homeschooling, with our group’s demands, in addition to just surviving; we have all experienced different trials over the course of the pandemic.
The diversity in our team fed naturally into diversity of mindset and diversity of method, as many of the challenges called for different approaches. Some issues required a very quick ‘best endeavours’ analysis, as (most recently) we thought through the maths of the ‘one dose for two people or two doses for one’ question; others have led us to set up robust modelling mechanisms for regular ‘turning the handle’ and analysis (our popular R estimates); others have been tackled with smaller groups of us working on particular themes, such as our monthly medical updates.
This wide range of problems, and the wide skillset in our team, have brought us in less than a year to the publication of our 100th Bulletin – in addition to many other forms of output, and associated media appearances. To mark this occasion, we have written this 100th Bulletin as a short summary of our experience of the pandemic, looking at how the main themes have been mirrored in our bulletins.
What can we say now, looking back? Early in March 2020, faced with an obviously ‘unprecedented’ crisis, we came together for ‘the common good’, and are proud to have helped our audience – which has also grown ‘exponentially’ over the pandemic – to understand and appreciate the issues better.
The actuarial profession has a vital role to play in understanding complex problems spanning areas such as health, mortality and economics, balancing short and longer-term costs and benefits. We are proud to have helped the profession show it can rise to its best, to tackle the worst of challenges.
To end on a brighter note, we have come a long way, and Bulletin 100 reminds us of another instance of that number. Worldwide COVID-19 vaccines administered are just breaking through 100 million – an incredible human achievement.
More about the Actuaries Response Group
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Read more about the COVID-19 Actuaries Response Group