Insights

A Big-Picture Overview of COVID-19: 3 Strategies to Defend Health as a Shared Value

Part 4 of a 4-Part Series

Michael J. Free, OBE, spent 32 years as the Vice President for Technology (and later Senior Advisor Emeritus) at PATH, the international nonprofit. He is an advisor to ApiJect Systems, Corp.

If health is a shared value rather than an individual consumer commodity (as I suggested in my prior post), then we face an urgent question: how can we best defend and protect this shared value?

To me, at least three strategies seem obvious.

First: I’m hardly the first to say that we could use more and better public education about science.  This includes better messaging from scientists and public health agencies.  Particularly in the U.S., citizens are independent-minded and tend to insist on going their own way, even in matters of health.  Perhaps especially in matters of health.  If people are going to change their behavior, they need to be persuaded — not commanded.

Consequently, people who are facing a public health crisis need and want to know the full truth, insofar as it can be known, about the biological dangers and prospects for “health defense.”  Citizens deserve the best possible answers to basic questions such as:  What is known?  What is not known?  When might we have the answers to key questions?  What is the scientific basis for any and all health guidelines, recommendations and requirements?

A second move that would strengthen our support for health as a shared value is steady, reliable, and sufficient public funding for both scientific research and for what might be termed “medical vigilance.”  Crash programs such as COVID-19 vaccine development deserve funding, of course; but government health agencies also need resources on an ongoing basis, whether there is an emergency or not.

In the U.S., a number of health agency directors have bemoaned for decades that their funding spikes during and immediately after bio-emergencies, but is quickly slashed when these threats are perceived to diminish.

We may have seen this kind of economizing, for example, in 2018 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) decided — or was obliged — to reduce staff for its China-based watchdog group by more than two-thirds.1  This group’s job included watching for zoonotic diseases (viruses that jump from animals to humans). That might have been a useful function in early 2020 as COVID-19 began to spread in that country.

On the other hand, we have also seen very significant public-private investment in medical R&D and health infrastructure.  Prompted by the urgency of the pandemic, some remarkable innovations have been enabled and accelerated by means of investment and market commitments.

Examples include the mRNA vaccines as well as the single-dose, prefilled injection system based on Blow-Fill-Seal technology that promises to affordably replace multi-dose vials and syringes anywhere where efficiency, safety, equity and access are paramount. When it begins manufacturing in 2023, ApiJect’s Gigafactory, will deliver a substantial public benefit and will be able to produce up to 3 billion doses of vaccine per year in prefilled injectors.

Gigafactory

A third step that I believe will help the world better defend “health as a shared value,” is increased international cooperation on health measures.  Pandemics, by definition, don’t respect national boundaries.  It’s wise strategy when international bodies such as WHO, Gavi and the Coalition for Economic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) pool their resources and their collective wisdom for joint efforts such as COVAX, the cooperative vaccine R&D and distribution program.

These three strategies — better public education on science; higher and more consistent funding for health-focused agencies; and stepped-up international cooperation on the health front — will greatly strengthen the world’s embrace of health as a shared value.

Previous: Read Part 3


 

1. https://www.usnews.com/news/top-news/articles/2020-03-25/exclusive-us-slashed-cdcstaff-inside-china-prior-to-coronavirus-outbreak

 

Note: The first photo was taken by Shutterstock.com, the second photo is an architectural rendering of the Gigafactory and ApiJect Campus, owned by ApiJect.