The Coronavirus pandemic created new risks for patients and care givers alike. Significant new safety practices and costs will be standard for years to come—perhaps forever, as we seek to eliminate the spread of the Coronavirus as well as any future viral threats.
Vast new demand for PPE (personal protection equipment) such as masks, pulmonary drugs and support such as ventilators, and access to ICUs (hospitals’ intensive care units) was created.
COVID-19 Challenges the Health Care System
Meanwhile, both patients and care-givers changed their habits. Patients decided not to visit doctors’ and dentists’ offices in order to avoid possible exposure to the virus. Many care-givers’ offices were closed temporarily, while doctors took advantage of modern high-speed internet connections and advanced web-conferencing equipment to deliver care via telemedicine. In fact, telemedicine, long suffering from slow adoption, soared, and is now firmly entrenched as an acceptable and effective practice. Elective surgery was delayed or cancelled.
The economic consequences to the health care industry were dire. Long one of the fastest-growing employment sectors, the U.S. health care industry suffered a stunning job loss of 1 million workers from February through September 2020. At the same time, millions of workers lost their jobs in other industries. As a result, vast numbers of Americans have lost their generous employer provided health care insurance, and that loss will be long-term for many of them.
Soaring Demand for COVID-19 Vaccines and Therapies
The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 created immense demand for preventative vaccines, and also for treatment therapies for patients suffering from the virus. Billions of dollars are being invested in research. A new drug therapy traditionally takes from 10 to 15 years to research, develop, put through clinical trials and get into the hands of doctors. Historically, new vaccines have also taken as many as 10 years to get to market. However, drugs and vaccines for the Coronavirus went into high-speed development.
With amazing speed, global demand and unprecedented levels of investment may result in the production of a Coronavirus vaccine in less than 12 months. In the U.S., the Trump administration launched “Operation Warp Speed,” making an historic push to bring vaccines and therapies to market quickly, with a goal of having 300 million doses of vaccine ready by January 2021. Billions of federal dollars were made available for research and development at private companies. Manufacturing capabilities had to be boosted at the same time.
Meanwhile, cooperation by and between federal agencies and private companies soared in an effort to remove all unnecessary obstacles to new drug and vaccine development. A number of existing drugs received emergency FDA approval as possible treatments for patients infected with the Coronavirus.
The New York Times reported in October 2020 that there were 44 vaccines being tested in multiple human trials running simultaneously around the world. Of those, 11 vaccines were being tested in Phase 3 trials, and five vaccines had been approved for early or limited use in specified countries.
U.S. biotech company Moderna was the first to begin human trials in March 2020, followed by another conducted by Pfizer. Biotech company Regeneron developed an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that appears to improve virus symptoms in non-hospitalized patients (the treatment was administered to President Trump after he tested positive for the Coronavirus in October 2020).
Vaccines with limited approval for early use include Ad5, developed by CanSino Biologics of China; Gam-Covid-Vac, developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute; a vaccine developed by the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products; a vaccine developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products; and CoronaVac, developed by Sinovac Biotech, a private company in China.
Governments around the world are awarding billions in funding in exchange for millions of doses if a vaccine proves safe and effective.