2 November 2023 Seminar: Vaccination and Unequal COVID-19 Mortality in England

For the seventh Pandemics & Society Seminar of our Fall 2023 series, we are pleased to welcome Dr Natalie Bennett (Newcastle University). The seminar will be held on Thursday, 2 November at the normal time (1600 CET). For attendees outside of Europe, please note that daylight savings time has ended. More information about our speaker and the presentation is below. You can sign up for email notifications about the seminar series, including the Zoom details, here.


The effectiveness of vaccination against severe COVID-19 infection and mortality is well documented, but there are inequalities in both vaccination uptake and COVID-19 mortality. Understanding whether more equal vaccination uptake might reduce socioeconomic inequalities in COVID-19 mortality is necessary for planning for future pandemics. Limited evidence available suggests that COVID-19 vaccination may have reduced inequalities in mortality. However, existing studies typically employ data covering a short time series and do not explicitly model inequalities. Using national data from the first recorded deaths through to December 2022, this study investigates whether the national vaccination program in England reduced inequalities in COVID-19 mortality associated with area-level deprivation. Descriptive analyses demonstrated that, though vaccination uptake was generally high, there was a widening gap between the most and least deprived areas in England in uptake by dose. New mortality inequality gradually declined as vaccination uptake and doses increased, and remained low throughout 2022. However, cumulative mortality inequalities rapidly grew from the start of the pandemic continued to grow throughout the entire period of observation. We estimate that more equitable vaccine uptake may have reduced, but not eradicated deprivation-based inequalities. We argue that preparation for future pandemics should include a comprehensive strategy for minimising deprivation-based inequalities.

About the Speaker

Dr Natalie Bennett is an Inequalities Research Fellow in the Applied Research Collaboration for the North East and North Cumbria at Newcastle University, England. Natalie is a Social Epidemiologist and works across a variety of interdisciplinary health inequalities projects. Her primary area of research is that of geographical inequalities in health and much of her more recent work has been in applying this focus to the COVID-19 pandemic.

19 October 2023 Seminar: The Grenfell Mission and the 1918 influenza pandemic in Labrador

For the sixth Pandemics & Society Seminar of our Fall 2023 series, we are pleased to welcome our colleague Uddhav Khakurel (PANSOC). The seminar will be held on Thursday, 19 October at the normal time (1600 CEST). More information about our speaker and the presentation is below. You can sign up for email notifications about the seminar series, including the Zoom details, here.


Labrador, part of the British Empire at the time but under the control of the Dominion Government of Newfoundland, was one of the most severely affected regions in the world during the 1918 influenza pandemic, with mortality ranging from 1 to 78 percent within communities. During the time of the pandemic, healthcare needs in the southern two-thirds of Labrador were provided by the Grenfell Mission, led by Dr. Wilfred Grenfell. This study explores the role played by the Grenfell Mission during the 1918 influenza pandemic. In addition, this analysis seeks to deepen our understanding of the factors that influenced the Mission’s response during the pandemic. This study was conducted using archival and secondary sources. Historical archives were collected from the digital archives of the Memorial University of Newfoundland and Yale University between the period of 1918 to 1959. Our findings suggest that despite the long presence of the Grenfell Mission from 1893 in Labrador, it faced a formidable challenge in providing health care during the influenza pandemic. The Mission had only one doctor and two nurses for 800 square miles. Their work in Labrador was further constrained by geographical isolation, weather conditions, shortage of healthcare workers, and its relationship with the Newfoundland Government. These factors help to explain the high level of heterogeneity in mortality within communities in Labrador.

About the Speaker

Uddhav Khakurel is a master’s student at Oslo Metropolitan University and is currently working as a research assistant at the Center for Research on Pandemics & Society. He has a background in public/global health. For his master’s thesis, he is looking at the role of non-pharmaceutical interventions in the 1918 influenza pandemic in Alaska. He is particularly interested in understanding the roles played by different actors in response to the disease outbreak.

What can historians in the history of medicine and health offer when a crisis in medicine occurs?

By Vibeke Narverud Nyborg (Associated Professor 2 at PANSOC, with research financed by University of South-Eastern Norway).

The conference from the European Association in the History of Medicine and Health (EAHMH) has just taken place at the University of Oslo. The theme for this conference was “Crisis in Medicine and Health,” a timely theme considering the recent experiences with COVID-19. However, being a conference in history most sessions drew on experiences occurring far earlier than the last pandemic, leaving to the participants to also reflect upon how historians can apply their research to the present and what the role and responsibilities historians have when a new crisis in medicine and health occurs.

Firstly, historians in medicine and health, like most other people and scholars do not agree upon how their research can be applied and to what extent historians have a role and a responsibility to act and share their knowledge of past events in time of crisis. These are hence my own reflections based on my own experiences together with insight gained through this recent conference and discussions with colleagues presenting here.

Historians work with the past. When it comes to dealing with crisis this can be considered a blessing, as both time and space give us the necessary space to reflect and see a broader picture when dealing with the actual crisis. The past and past events differ from the present despite some trajectories and pathways to some extent appears remarkably similar. This leads us to the question; can we learn anything from history? Is it possible to draw knowledge from historical lessons? Historians disagree on this too. While some will deny the possibility of any lessons to be learned other simply state that it is impossible not to take advantage of history, as we are all results of the historical context and past society is based upon.

My view in this is that lessons cannot be drawn from history in the sense that 1 = 1, that is this event happened before, therefor the same event will lead to the same consequences again. The past is different, knowledge, people and society develop. However, historical knowledge will contribute to see patterns, contribute with significant contextual framing which can make us point to consequences of decisions, stories that became invisible, people not heard, different responses to the same medical threats and risks taken by individuals and/or society to cope with the threats opposed by medical and health issues. Historians can also contribute with reflections concerning consequences in the aftermath of crisis, because they are trained in understanding how continuity and change appear and what factors that can be seen as plying into what prevails and what changes after specific events.

Dealing with past epidemics and pandemics in my research, working together with knowledgeable colleagues in an interdisciplinary team and living through a medical crisis such as COVID-19, my experience is that historians have a lot to offer concerning knowledge about past medical crisis, if people are willing to listen. We can use this knowledge to contribute with understanding and contextualizing, framing a current crisis within a broader picture. What we cannot do is to predict the future based on our past knowledge, which often seem to be what people expect. Historians deal with the past, we do not predict for the future.

The Centre for Research on Pandemics and Society (PANSOC) is quite unique in its approach to investigate and research historical epidemics and pandemics, exploring societal consequences, both short and long term on past pandemics. The variety of approaches involving, social inequalities, disparities, economic, minorities, legislative, political and individual experiences on medical crisis give a unique knowledge relevant to the present as well as future pandemics if we do not let these experiences be part of the crisis memory gap, but continuously contribute to claim our relevance and advocate the knowledge we gain from our research to other academics, politicians and policy makers.

EAHMH 2023 was hosted by University of Oslo, 30 August to 2 September. For more information about the conference visit the website: https://www.eahmh23.org/

12 October 2023 Seminar: Cholera & Spanish Flu in the Philippines

For the next Pandemics & Society Seminar of our Fall 2023 series, we are pleased to welcome Professor Francis Gealogo (Ateneo de Manila University). The seminar will be held on Thursday, 12 October at the normal time (1600 CEST). More information about our speaker and the presentation is below. You can sign up for email notifications about the seminar series, including the Zoom details, here.


The Cholera Epidemic of 1903-05 and the 1918 influenza pandemic were one of the most virulent epidemics ever to hit the American-occupied Philippines.  The impact of the contagion was felt unevenly by the population of the islands, with some populations becoming more vulnerable to the disease compared to others.

The presentation analyzes the environmental and ecological dimensions of the spread of the disease, and the attempts by different sectors to contain the epidemic, or mitigate its impact for those already affected by the outbreak.  Specifically, the paper will assess the pandemics as experienced in prison populations, leper colonies, and military camps as examples of confined populations and rural ethnic communities, urban and suburban communities as examples of unconfined populations.  The official government actions as well as the people’s perception about the pandemics in these population types will also be analyzed in order to advance the evaluation on the social dimension in the history of this pandemic from the prism of medical and demographic history.   Finally, the paper will present the Philippine experience during the cholera and influenza pandemic and  contextualize them as part of the Philippine colonial experience under the United States.

About the Speaker

Francis A. Gealogo is Professor and former Chairman of the Department of History of Ateneo de Manila University and former Commissioner of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He currently holds the Horacio de la Costa Professorial Chair in History at the Ateneo de Manila. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in History (cum laude), Master of Arts in History and PhD in Philippine Studies, major in History from the University of the Philippines Diliman. He was Fulbright Senior Fellow at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and was Rene Descartes Senior Fellow for the History and Philosophy of Science and the Humanities at the Utrecht University, the Netherlands. His article “The Philippines in the World of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–19” was awarded as one of the Most Outstanding Scientific Papers of the National Academy of Science and Technology. He served as Editor of the Diliman Review and Managing Editor of Philippine Studies: Historical and Ethnographic Viewpoints and served as Associate Director for Research at the Ateneo Institute of Philippine Culture. He is currently Secretary of the History of Medicine in Southeast Asia (HOMSEA); Vice President of Ibon International, and Lead Convenor of Tanggol Kasaysayan, an organization of historians, researchers, and professors of history campaigning against negative historical revisionism. His semi-regular column BALIKSAYSAY is appearing in the alternative media outfit Bulatlat.

Please meet Elisabeth Wrigley-Field, a PANSOC Visiting Research Program Scholar 2023-24

The PANSOC visiting researcher program for the academic year 2023-24 have selected two researchers. Elizabeth Wrigley-Field | Minnesota Population Center (umn.edu) and Merle Eisenberg | Oklahoma State University (okstate.edu).

While Merle Eisenberg is joining us in May 2024, Elizabeth Wrigley-Field has been visiting PANSOC for the past few weeks and is staying a total of one month this fall. Wrigley-Field is a mortality demographer who studies social stratification in United States mortality in two contexts where infectious disease risk changed radically: the early twentieth century, when disease risk was falling but was punctuated by the terribly destructive 1918 flu pandemic, and the Covid-19 pandemic as it has evolved over the past several years.

Here at OsloMet, she is working with PANSOC researchers to develop new strategies to unravel an old puzzle: why did mortality to many other respiratory diseases, especially tuberculosis, fall so dramatically after the 1918 flu? Wrigley-Field is using her skills in social history and mathematical modeling to identify new empirical and modeling tests of the leading hypotheses, and is benefitting from the broad interdisciplinary discussions at PANSOC: its webinar series, journal club, and regular brainstorming sessions with pandemic researchers from across the social and biological sciences.

While here, she was awarded the Milbank Quarterly Early Career Award in Population Health from the Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science in the United States.

New guest researcher: Lauren Steele

Laureen Steele is PhD candidate at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.

Her PhD thesis is looking at how host factors impacted disease severity during historical influenza pandemics, to inform on future pandemic preparedness. Steele is interested in host factors such as age, BMI, indigeneity, and prior infection history.

In the Fall of 2022, Steele was invited to join the project Social Science Meets Biology | CAS (cas-nor.no) at CAS (Centre for Advanced Study) in Oslo for several months to work on a paper describing the effect of measles on 1918 influenza outcomes in soldiers who fought in WW1.

This Fall, Steele has been invited back to Oslo to collaborate with researchers at PANSOC looking at age patterns of mortality during the influenza pandemics of the 20th Century.