In mid-October, global software company Everbridge organised a virtual symposium on the road to recovery in the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim of the two-day conference was to discuss how to navigate and adapt to the new reality, with a predominantly US focus given many of the speakers were from US companies or organisations.

In terms of healthcare-specific solutions, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation CEO Dr Judy Monroe noted during a discussion session that even though there is a Covid-19 vaccine on the horizon, the behaviour changes around mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing are crucial to handling this pandemic.

Member of the White House Coronavirus Taskforce and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci agreed that there is a need to double down on public health measures. Fauci added that until they are implemented more effectively, the pandemic situation will get worse rather than better.

This is particularly relevant as the US has seen a steady growth in cases in recent weeks, with upticks in certain regions. A similar situation is emerging across Europe; for instance, stronger restrictions are being implemented in certain cities and regions in the UK.

Importance of  Covid-19 vaccines in the road to recovery

On a more optimistic note, Fauci expressed hope that at least one Covid-19 vaccine will be approved by the end of 2020. This timetable was also mentioned by CDC deputy director of infectious diseases Dr Jay Butler and director for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases Dr Nancy Messonnier.

However, Messonnier noted that this year there will only limited numbers of doses, which will need to prioritised for at-risk groups, such as essential workers, older adults and those with co-morbidities. However, come next year, because of the scale-up in manufacturing in the US, she is hopeful there may be enough to vaccinate the entire American population. 

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In response to a question about public concerns about the unprecedented speed at which these Covid-19 vaccines are being developed, Messonier emphasised that although pharma companies, and the US Government’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, are accelerating clinical development of these vaccines for Covid-19, they are not cutting corners and are just removing unnecessary barriers.

She explained that the size of the vaccine studies and the period of follow-up is consistent with other vaccine trials. She added that the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of these Covid-19 vaccines will be as rigorous as with any drug or vaccine by both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC.

Messonier further added that there is some public misunderstanding and that the FDA and CDC continue to evaluate vaccines in the long-term to confirm safety. She noted that the current systems to do this are strong and robust, but those systems have been enhanced to respond to the Covid-19 situation. Butler commented that the CDC is launching another tool called V-SAFE, a smartphone-based health checker that sends alerts to people who have received the vaccine to find out if they have experienced any associated symptoms.

Messonier concluded by congratulating the public for adhering to public health requirements. But once a vaccine is approved, everyone needs to do their part to continue to adhere and get vaccinated and it is important that the public is educated about why this important.

Monroe agreed that everyone is going to need to wear marks and other public health measures for quite some time, even after vaccines arrive. Butler noted that although vaccines are essential in this road to recovery, they are not a panacea. They may be the most important tool in the public health toolkit, but they are not going to be a magic bullet.