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Manufacture Vaccines, COVID-19

Pandemic Preparedness

Why was the world so unprepared for a coronavirus pandemic? Long before 2020, scientific experts, the WHO, and even the World Bank pointed out that coronaviruses could be problematic. In some ways, we were perhaps lulled into a false sense of security by recent epidemics and pandemics. SARS and MERS did not spread extensively across the globe, and the 2009 H1N1 crisis was considered mild in comparison to 1918’s Spanish flu.

“We took our eye off the ball – possibly in 2008 when funding for betacoronaviridae took a nosedive because we went into an economic crash,” says Adrian Wildfire, Director, Scientific and Business Strategy at hVIVO, a clinical development services business.

Wildfire recently moderated a roundtable discussion for The Medicine Maker focusing on how previous pandemics have shaped responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The conversation involved Pieter Neels, Chair of the Human Vaccine Committee of the International Alliance for Biological Standardization; Marco Cavaleri, Head of Office, Biological Health Threats and vaccines strategy at EMA; Rebecca Cox, Professor of Medical Virology and Head of the Influenza Centre at the University of Bergen and Haukeland University Hospital, Norway; and Daniel Hoft, Professor of Internal Medicine at St Louis University School of Medicine, USA.

“We were not prepared because the revious SARS and MERS pandemics were far from our bedside,” said Neels. “The 2 0 0 9 H 1 N 1 crisis was judged a mild influenza, so why should we have all these measures in place for such a pandemic?” As an example of complacency, before the COVID-19 crisis broke out, Belgium destroyed a strategic stockpile of millions of masks because it didn’t think they would be needed. The masks were purchased over a decade ago because of fears of an influenza epidemic. However, Neels adds that we “simply could not imagine that the next pandemic would be on the same level as the Spanish flu.”

But it’s not all bad news. When it comes to vaccine manufacture, processes have certainly changed drastically over the last century – emphasized by the fact that the industry has been able to create new vaccines for COVID-19 in such a short space of time.

Wildfire, Neels, and the other participants discuss these topics and more in the video roundtable.

Click here to watch the discussion

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