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Great news buried beneath recent vaccine headlines

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By Jeremy Pafford on 03-Feb-2021

With news bubbling up about coronavirus variants, here is a variant message of my own: Look past the recent coronavirus headlines and you will find some extremely hopeful developments.

The remarkably high efficacy rates for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines quickly spoiled us after health experts for months said that anything over 50% effective would be a win. So when Johnson & Johnson announced last week that its phase 3 trials of its single-dose vaccine produced a 66% overall efficacy, the headlines across the Internet deemed the results as a disappointment.

That was somewhat understandable, as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being made with adenovirus-vector technology that is not novel like the messenger RNA (mRNA)-based technology behind the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine does not require super cold storage or two jabs like the mRNA-based vaccines, making it easier logistically and economically to get to more people than the other two. Thus, health experts have been anxiously awaiting its results as they view it to be the type of vaccine that could turn the tide of the pandemic.

If that tide-turner is only 66% effective in bringing immunity to the coronavirus, how do you get the public behind taking it when other vaccines have produced better immunity results?

You do that by emphasizing the story that came from that result: It was 100% effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths from the coronavirus, and 85% effective in preventing severe cases. Those results held true against variants such as the South African one, which appears to be more contagious.

“Not a single person who got vaccinated, and had illness after four weeks, ended up in the hospital,” Dr Mathai Mammen, global head of pharmaceutical research and development at Johnson & Johnson, told NBC News, adding that this “leads me to believe that this vaccine will stop this pandemic”.

In short, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine turns the coronavirus into a really bad cold, and we can live with a really bad cold. Such a development portends to a day in the nearing future in which we will no longer live under the thumb of coronavirus.

US coronavirus cases are falling, while deaths may have mercifully peaked. Vaccines are making their way into communities, and shipments are about to be sent to US pharmacies. Going forward, there are still a host of vaccine developers in various trial stages across the world that will help bring an end to the pandemic to all corners of the world.

Great hurdles remain, not the least of which is making sure that developing countries without vaccine production get access to these life-saving products. It is a moral imperative that developed countries help their global neighbours, but it also is an opportunity for those in the medical supply chain to step up as well.

Medical device manufacturers such as Becton Dickinson and Cardinal Health make syringes and already have the reputation of producing life-saving products. Polypropylene producers such as ExxonMobil, Braskem or Flint Hills Resources are not necessarily viewed in the same warm light. They should be, because without their resin the vaccines could not be deployed as quickly or as economically, compared with alternatives such as the much heavier and more costly metal. Resin producers have an opportunity to leverage their relationships with medical device manufacturers to mutually promote their partnership in getting the vaccines to the world.

While the pandemic’s end is not right around the corner, that end is more visible with the Johnson & Johnson news. More than ever, it is imperative that supply chains supporting vaccination efforts pour their energies into this effort and prepare for emergence on the other side of this tiresome pandemic.

Disclaimer: The views in this blogpost should in no shape or form be taken as actual forecasts and are my personal views only.