In recognition of his crucial professional work in the fight against the coronavirus and the key role he played in informing the public, Figyelő magazine has named Dr. Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University, as its Person of the Year in 2020. This was the sixth time that the magazine has awarded the honor. In his interview on the occasion of the recognition, the rector said that in an optimistic scenario, the country would reach herd immunity already by the beginning of the summer.

The work of Dr. Béla Merkely has been of crucial importance and significance during the pandemic; in addition to his expertise he has also played a key role in informing the public, thus contributing to the more conscious attitude of the public toward the coronavirus – said the paper, explaining why they chose the university’s rector as Person of the Year in 2020.

Figyelő also published an accompanying interview with the rector, in which Dr. Béla Merkely noted among others that we have been living with COVID-19 for 10 months now, and we know more and more about it, but still far from all. According to our current knowledge, the coronavirus causes one of the most contagious upper respiratory diseases that we know about, and which is highly efficient in exploiting the weaknesses in our immune system, the rector said. He added that herd immunity is reached when at least 60% of the population has either gone through the disease or have been vaccinated, and this can result in the end of the pandemic. In an optimistic scenario, this can be reached by early summer, he said.

He spoke about how we still don’t know why the course of the disease in patients is so varied, saying that the virus may select between certain patient groups based on certain environmental or genetic factors, with these patients suffering from very serious illnesses. “Until we reach herd immunity we are all at risk; the disease is most severe among older people, and those that suffer from obesity, oncological diseases or diabetes,” he pointed out.

He also emphasized that this extraordinary situation has also shown the power of working together. “As rector, I am extremely proud of all of our university’s workers, who have taken part in the fight against the pandemic from the beginning,” he said.

Pálma Dobozi
Translation: Tamás Deme
Photo: Attila Kovács – Semmelweis University (featured image); Figyelő cover