Better Preparation Needed for the Next Pandemic, Experts Say

News

The emergence of the Delta variant was “heartbreaking,” in part because of the COVID-19 vaccines’ longevity limitations, but their development less than a year into the pandemic demonstrated that “America can work,” noted Matthew Hepburn, MD, at a virtual event featuring pandemic lessons Thursday.

Hepburn, who led vaccine development for the federal government’s Countermeasures Acceleration Group (formerly dubbed “Operation Warp Speed”) throughout the pandemic, said he had expected the established vaccines to retain efficacy for longer than they have, adding that he never thought he would see the need for booster shots just 6 months after primary doses.

Delta has been a particularly harmful and aggressive variant, “and it’s not gone yet,” he said at the Alliance for Health Policy event. The refusal of many eligible Americans to get vaccinated likely helped fuel the variant’s impact.

The speakers at the event rued the high numbers of Americans who have died or suffered during the pandemic.

“It could have saved many, many lives” if leaders had been more proactive in preparing not just scientifically but also logistically, said Alina Baum, PhD, who helped Regeneron as associate director of infectious diseases develop the monoclonal antibody cocktail casirivimab and imdevimab for the treatment of COVID. “The next virus is out there, it’s going to come out, it’s going to happen,” noted Baum. “This is not something we can just be done with and move on.”

Nevertheless, the speakers credited some government leaders and other colleagues for acting swiftly at the start of the pandemic.

It was “monumental” that some leaders in March and April 2020 publicly stated it would take major efforts and time to get the country out of the pandemic, Hepburn said.

Hepburn and Peter Marks, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, addressed the days of Operation Warp Speed, which was designed in part to help develop the vaccines quickly. The operation was not “crazy,” said Marks, despite skepticism and considerable obstacles when it launched. It merely entailed changing the “normal battle plan” to focus on “mitigating the loss of life.”

They succeeded by working together and following an operational mantra: “check your ego at the door,” Hepburn noted. Getting the vaccines developed, authorized, and distributed within a year proved that the private and government sectors can work well together. “Government can work. America can work,” he said. He also cited the hundreds of thousands of people who volunteered for vaccine clinical trials, adding, “That gives me hope, even as we think of future pandemics.”

The operation’s collective talent and experience helped, Marks said. “I was confident we would get [at least] one [vaccine] variation through” the regulatory process quickly. “I never lost confidence we’d get a vaccine in a timely manner.”

“There was a sense of optimism even when we started,” Hepburn added. The team never cut corners, he emphasized.

Marks and Hepburn encouraged Americans to stick together for the remainder of this and future pandemics. But that may be our “biggest challenge,” Hepburn pointed out. “Technology won’t be our biggest challenge; the challenge is personal.”

People need to work together here and nations must commit internationally to prevent and handle future pandemics, he noted. “The technological advances have been astonishing” during this pandemic, he added, citing the vaccines and growth of telehealth.

While healthcare workers continue to fight a pandemic that has seen the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S. alone, Hepburn noted one silver lining: healthcare as a whole has learned a lot about how to treat COVID patients.

Baum credited her colleagues for spending many Saturdays in the lab working on the Regeneron treatment. They came even early in the pandemic, when it was frightening to be out of their homes in New York. Regeneron relied on its experience working on Ebola therapies to help develop the treatment. Millions of people have taken it, she said. “We feel like we’ve really done something meaningful.”

  • author['full_name']

    Ryan Basen reports for MedPage’s enterprise & investigative team. He often writes about issues concerning the practice and business of medicine, nurses, cannabis and psychedelic medicine, and sports medicine. Send story tips to r.basen@medpagetoday.com. Follow

Articles You May Like

Biden says he will direct FDA, CDC to use ‘fastest process available’ to clear Covid vaccines targeting omicron
Food Recalls and Undeclared Allergens: What You Need to Know
What’s The Difference Between A PCR And Antigen COVID-19 Test? A Molecular Biologist Explains
Do You Discuss Mental Health With Your Patients?
Scientists now close to eliminating mother-baby HIV transmission, says leading researcher

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *