2020 will not, for the vast majority, be looked back on as a good year.
At the time of writing in mid-November, over 50 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed globally, with more than 1 million deaths. These are stark figures, the signature of a virus that has torn across the planet, and is still rife in many communities.
However, there is finally (seemingly) light at the end of the tunnel. Phase III vaccine results are beginning to emerge, with levels of efficacy exceeding even the most optimistic predictions when development began. Submission to regulatory authorities is imminent, and there is hope that the mammoth task of roll-out may even begin before the end of the year. Perhaps by mid-2021, life may look more ‘normal’.
It is human nature to look for the silver lining in situations, no matter how bleak. The question is, can there be any ‘silver lining’ to a scenario like this one? There is certainly no equivalence to be drawn in terms of good and bad outcomes, no disputing the horrendous toll that the disease has taken. But is there anything we can learn? Any scraps of positivity that may be useful for humanity ‘post-COVID’?
Public health awareness
- Hygiene has never been more important. The concept of keeping your hands clean to minimise the risk of catching bugs is not new, but is now at the forefront of minds
- This renewed focus also extends to educating children. WHO has partnered with Peppa Pig to launch the ‘Wash Wash Wash Your Hands’ singalong video, which, thanks to my niece, is now indelibly burnt onto my brain – although, that’s the whole point…
- Necessity is the mother of innovation. The pandemic is no different, and has prompted new solutions for keeping ourselves safe, working remotely and keeping in touch during periods of isolation
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) vending machines have sprung up at transport hubs
- Autonomous robot vehicles are delivering supplies – in Wuhan, China, over 100 million masks were delivered in this way over a 3 day period at the beginning of the pandemic
- HP have posted free 3D-printing design files for items like mask adjusters and hands-free door-openers, allowing them to be produced anywhere in the world
Collaboration and altruism in the pharmaceutical industry
- In the search for a vaccine, big pharma companies have joined forces, including partnerships between Pfizer and BioNTech, and GSK and Sanofi respectively, accelerating the development process and giving hope of more than one viable product being made available
- More broadly, companies are using knowledge gained from decades of experience with similar viruses to pilot treatments, donating compounds formerly tested on other viral pathogens such as Ebola and HIV, and exploring technologies for upscaling production of any successful vaccine candidate
- For many, the chance to spend more time with their families will have been life-affirming, allowing for the strengthening of relationships, with opportunities to reconnect and evaluate life priorities
- Many businesses will be re-assessing their policies on working from home as a result, with more employee autonomy over their own work-life balance
We all hope that pharmaceutical innovation and public health policy are able to control the pandemic as quickly as possible. In the meantime, perhaps we can take some solace in the human capacity to adapt, and, ultimately, overcome.