‘This vaccine story is a huge success’: Lessons learned in a pandemic

Never before has a vaccine, like the one for the novel coronavirus, been developed so quickly.

Within 12 months, scientists had identified a new pathogen and developed a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. The previous record was four years when scientists developed a mumps vaccine in the 1960s.

“This vaccine story is a huge success,” said Dr. Roberto Colón of Premier Health, which operates Atrium Medical Center, of the novel coronavirus vaccines. “Because we did it so quickly it has sparked a lot of questions.”

Colón said moving forward, the medical field will evaluate the lessons learned from the speed at which the COVID-19 vaccines were developed. With quickness and safety, he said ”we can push new innovations through are going to likely decrease the time between discovery, experimentation, and rolling out the new therapies for a lot of other conditions. That’s really been one of the biggest lessons that we have learned.”

The vaccine for COVID-19 was developed so quickly because of the work done on the vaccines for other notable viruses and diseases, said Dr. Eric Daar, HIV medicine division chief at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, in an interview with UCLA Health.

“People developed these novel strategies while pursuing vaccines for these other diseases, so they were basically on the lab bench waiting for the next pandemic to come along,” he told UCLA Health.

Other scientists and medical experts say the development of the vaccine means science doesn’t have to move slow.

“It’s been fantastic to see how fast science can move when people collaborate,” said Nevan Krogan, cellular and molecular pharmacology professor and director at UCSF Quantitative Biosciences Institute, in an interview with UCSF Magazine. “We’ve been breaking down silos between scientists, laboratories, and institutions worldwide, as well as between universities and pharmaceutical companies. ... It is the way we should do all science in the future.”

Collaboration is something other scientists feel is needed moving forward.

“It has taught us that we can bring scientists together from all sectors in new and creative collaborative arrangements and get things done a lot faster than people might have thought possible before this came about,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in a WebMD interview.

Another thing learned is that the United States needs a better supply chain for medical equipment, like personal protective equipment (PPE), said Colón, chief medical officer and vice president of operations at Miami Valley Hospital.

“Never in a million years would I have imagined that within the U.S. we’d be worried about running out of equipment to take care of our people, to take care of our patients, to protect our staff,” he said. “That’s something that was all too real just under a year ago. That’s going to likely change how we maintain our stockpile of equipment moving forward.”

Near the start of the pandemic, hospitals, medical facilities and fire departments were running dangerously low on PPE, a struggle for many frontline healthcare workers and first responders faced. As late as the summer of 2020, 42 percent of nurses reported running out of PPE, according to an American Nurses Association survey of 20,000 nurses.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 billion COVID relief package proposes additional medical equipment and hiring 100,000 new public health workers.

“The U.S. is not immune to some of the challenges of health care that face other countries,” Colón said. “I think that we learned that very early on in this pandemic with our supply of personal protective equipment.”

Continuing coverage

The Journal-News has used reporters in our communities to cover every aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic from the first day Ohio residents were tested, in Oxford in January 2020. We’ll continue to report on the most important aspects of the coronavirus with the information you most need to know.

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