Vincent Racaniello in his podcast studio Photo by Ray Ortega

Viral Columbia Podcast Keeps Listeners Up to Date on Coronavirus

At the end of each episode of “This Week in Virology,” the host signs off the same way: “Another TWiV is viral.”

And indeed, the transmissibility of the podcast is increasing at a rapid rate, now that each episode is almost exclusively about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19, the disease it causes. 

“Before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, each episode of TWiV was downloaded an average 15,000 times, a level which took weeks to reach. Now it is above 40,000 and rising daily” says the podcast’s host and creator, Vincent Racaniello, PhD, the Higgins Professor of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Racaniello started the TWiV with microbiologist Dickson Despommier, PhD, in 2008 when the New York area was in the midst of a West Nile virus outbreak. 

“I’d been thinking for years about how to teach virology outside the classroom, and podcasting seemed like the perfect solution,” Racaniello says.

In each new episode, Racaniello, Despommier, and other virologist co-hosts bring a critical eye to the latest news reports and scientific studies of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. 

“There’s a ton of misinformation out there on social media, blogs, and YouTube,” Racaniello says, “but the people talking aren’t virologists and they just spread rumors and hearsay.”

To keep abreast of the latest developments, TWiV also brings in special guests, such as emerging-disease experts Stephen Morse, PhD and Ian Lipkin, MD, of the Mailman School of Public Health, and coronavirus expert Ralph Baric, PhD, from the University of North Carolina.

Physician Daniel Griffin, MD, PhD, a frequent guest, now checks in during his day on breaks from treating patients with COVID-19 to share clinical observations and also to get the TWiV team’s take on recent developments.

“This is one of the times when silos [between scientists and physicians] need to come down, ” Griffin said on a recent episode. “Data are coming out so rapidly, and clinicians need to rely on people like the TWiV team who can read the scientific literature.”

Don’t expect any long, dry lectures if you drop by TWiV, though. 

“Even during this pandemic, being casual is key,” Racaniello says. “People are turned off by formal lectures and learn more from unscripted conversation.”

Based on the long list of listener questions that the TWiV team answers on each episode, that approach is working.

“The great thing about TWiV is that we engage our listeners,” Racaniello says. “Oftentimes people send in questions that we can’t answer, but we’ll later hear from one of our listeners who has the right expertise and can provide the answer.

“Physicians, basic scientists, architects, policemen, postal service employees, health care workers, and lawyers the diversity of our listeners is amazing; they’re learning from us, but we’re also learning from them.”



Other TWiV co-hosts: