Even in the United States, the existence of a vaccine for COVID-19 won’t be an immediate solution for what ails the country. Society may not be safe from the virus until 2023 or 2024, says Dr. Lynda Stuart, deputy director of vaccines and human immunobiology at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr. Stuart was the speaker at a Dallas Regional Chamber virtual conference last week that included entrepreneur and philanthropist Lyda Hill and Nicole Small of LH Capital and Lyda Hill Philanthropies, who discussed DFW’s continues growth in the biotech industry.
Stuart described the Gates Foundation’s work, which includes testing, treating, and hopefully preventing the spread of COVID-19 via a vaccine. Each year the foundation spends $50 million on a variety of new vaccines, and they are speeding up the process for COVID-19 in unprecedented ways. Their target is to have a vaccine 12-18 months from when the program began earlier this year.
Stuart says nothing on this scale has ever been attempted, and 2-4 billion doses will need to be produced worldwide. The question people should be asking isn’t when will there be a vaccine. “When will it get into your arm is more important,” she says.
It will be essential to prioritize vulnerable populations worldwide, which could half the number of total deaths. The elderly, those with preexisting conditions, and healthcare workers should be prioritized to protect those most likely to suffer from the virus.
Also, the vaccines need to be stored in ultracold freezers, which aren’t readily available in rural areas in the U.S., much less around the world. Even here, it will be a tall task to get the vaccines out to rural areas, many of which have had significant outbreaks.
Stuart was confident that the vaccines being developed by several pharmaceutical companies, will be made without cutting any corners. And to get the number of doses needed to protect against the virus, she hopes multiple companies will come up with a successful vaccine because they will all be needed to get the requisite number of doses worldwide
Coming up with a vaccine is just the beginning of what will be years worth of getting control of the virus and the death it is causing around the world, not to mention the economic losses. “We may not be able to protect the planet until 2023 or 2024,” Stuart says. “But it’s important to think about who needs it most.”