Symposium Discusses COVID-19

On August 24, top speakers joined Health Affairs Editor-in-Chief Alan Weil for the virtual Symposium Promoting Innovation & Equity as COVID-19 Vaccines & Treatment Emerge. 

He said “Innovation plays an important role when developing vaccines, however, there must also be equitable access to vaccines and therapeutics. We must think about the vast impact developing a vaccine for COVID-19 has on the population in the U.S but also the impact globally.”

Orin Levine, Director, Global Delivery Programs, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, mentioned that although COVID-19 is so different in many ways, we must not be overwhelmed by the onset of the virus. We must learn from past epidemics, work quickly, and at the same time, deliver innovative products.

He said, “We must collaborate with other countries to develop effective vaccines and treatments as the virus does not respect borders. This will give us an opportunity to learn, grow, collaborate, and innovate in order to deliver vaccines within reach of everybody in the U.S and globally.”

Nicole Lurie, Strategic Advisor to the CEO, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation, Harvard Medical School and former Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS, followed up with comments on what has been done in the past  related to producing and distributing vaccines and how today we are now operating at Warp Speed to innovate.

As she suggests, “The U.S Government has been very active and involved in funding and manufacturing vaccines but today we need to be involved in innovating present policies related to financing, actively reach out to developers and partners worldwide, and finally, the U.S needs to modernize the public health system as some of the other countries in the world have done.”

Angela K. Shen, Visiting Research Scientists Vaccine Education  Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Captain (Ret.) U. S Public Health Services, explained that publicly funded programs are needed that can operate quickly and efficiently distribute the vaccine.

Lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 experience suggest that the federal government purchase in bulk, provide for centralized distribution, ship directly to the public and provider vaccination sites. State allocations should be in proportion to the size of the total population, states need to develop plans, and Federal, State, local and Tribal governments need to work with providers.

She pointed out the challenges in reaching the right people in the right setting. If this is to be accomplished, states need to identify potential priority groups that traditionally been left under or unvaccinated. Also, there is an important need to strengthen the public health infrastructure and this requires fully staff public health clinics, FQHCs, and Rural Health Clinics.

She summed up by saying, “If all the rules and suggestions are followed, not only will vaccines protect people but the public will have a growing confidence in vaccine and immunization

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