A Year of COVID-19 Provides Lessons for the Future
One year and more than 410,000 deaths later, the United States is still firmly in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although there are now two authorized vaccines in the United States, newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden has warned that the next few months could be grim ones for the nation. When Biden assumed office, among his first duties was the signing of multiple executive orders aimed at curbing the pandemic. The orders included efforts to increase and accelerate vaccination efforts in the U.S., and also directed government agencies to use wartime powers that require companies to make masks, swabs and other equipment to fight the pandemic.
While the vaccines created and authorized in record time have provided hope for a return to normalcy, Biden has warned there’s still a long way to go before enough people are inoculated to provide herd immunity. The president has a lofty goal of vaccinating 100 million people within his first 100 days in office. Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla previously indicated his confidence the U.S. could reach that goal and said his company was boosting its manufacturing efforts in order to get as many doses of the vaccine it developed alongside Germany’s BioNTech out to the public. That goal of 100 million doses could receive additional support from Johnson & Johnson, which indicated it could seek authorization of its single-dose vaccine within the next two weeks.
Increased vaccination will curb rising infection numbers and could also provide an important shield against new strains of COVID-19 that are more infectious. There have been some questions as to how well the vaccines will perform against mutated strains, but the higher the number of people who receive the vaccine globally will prevent rapid spread of any new mutations, Anthony Fauci, now the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said Thursday.
A lot has changed over the past year since the virus first reached the shores of the United States. The administration of former President Donald Trump sought to downplay the seriousness of the virus throughout the past year, which Fauci said this morning “very likely” led to the high number of infections and deaths in the United States.
That’s a sentiment shared by Moncef Slaoui, the former GSK vaccines expert and the former head of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed.
“We must never again politicize public health issues,” Slaoui, who resigned at the request of the Biden administration, told CNBC. “I am sure this has cost tens of thousands of lives.”
The virus definitely became politicized over the course of the year, particularly in the months leading up to the contentious election. Political appointees attempted to block the release of some data from government agencies because it contradicted the Trump administration’s messaging. Much will be noted about the former president’s insistence on the use of unproven medications, such as hydroxychloroquine, which the FDA later revoked emergency use authorization of due to a lack of supporting clinical evidence.
Still, those failures and political manipulation of government reports on the virus will serve as important lessons to future public health officials.
Fortunately though, virologists, epidemiologists and other medical professionals have learned a great deal about a virus that has been very confusing – from the ways in which it attacks the body, to the ease of asymptomatic spread.
Despite the political roadblocks to addressing the virus, the pharmaceutical industry made a herculean effort to pivot its research focus to the viral threat. Vaccines have been developed in record time by multiple companies. The Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines have been authorized in the U.S., as well as abroad. A vaccine developed by AstraZeneca has been authorized for use in the U.K., Russia authorized a vaccine developed by its own scientists, and other nations are attempting to acquire vaccines for their populations. A significant number of vaccines in development have demonstrated high efficacy against the virus, which is encouraging news for those hoping to find a return to a more normal life.
It’s not just vaccines that have been developed. Antiviral drugs like Gilead Sciences remdesivir have been approved to use as a treatment against the virus. Also, antibody treatments from companies like Regeneron and Eli Lilly have also been authorized for use. In his announcement this week, Biden said he was seeking financing to support the development of additional therapeutics against COVID-19.
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