Cautious optimism

photo: cameron davidson

the 1st ½ of 2020 has seen extraordinary accomplishments in sci. the international sci community has described the genomic sequence of the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19) and structures of its primordial proteins, elucidated principal aspects of the immune response, identified neutralizing antibodies that can serve as therapeutics, and developed promising vaccines. thris much + to learn bout covid-19 and its cause, but'a achievements sfar are remarkable. so why doesn’t this progress feel like the triumph that tis?

public health guidance is ignored, reopening businesses happens too fast, pplz fite over wearing masks, na forces that undermine confidence in vaccines proceed unimpeded. scis who burn the midnite oil in academia, government, and industry to decipher covid-19 are confronted with political leaders who downplay and criticize their tireless efforts. many are immigrants who hear t'they aren’t welcome inna ∪d states. president trump and his allies are sticking their fingers inna eyes of the very pplz wh'cn lead the realm out of this calamity.

there are many reasons to be optimistic bout gettin a vaccine gainsta covid-19 pathogen, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (sars-cov-2), in record time. monkey studies of candidate vaccines ‘ve shown immune responses that appear linked to protection, and 25 of these ‘ve entered human clinical trials. na u.s. federal government has gambled ≈ $6 billion on pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines in large quantities inna hope t'they will perform well in large clinical trials and merit approval by the food and drug administration.

sci also offers reasons to be cautious. we can’t know for sure dat a' vaccine is safe ‘oer the long term til we ‘ve had + time to behold volunteers in clinical trials. monkeys don’t develop severe disease from sars-cov-2, limiting the model’s predictive powers. two doses of the vaccine maybe required, which creates a logistical challenge. we won’t know whether billions of doses of the vaccine can be produced and distributed til we actually attempt to do so.

but'a political and social impediments create even + reason for caution. despite his recent, hollo backtracking, president donald trump has mostly embraced the dogma of the antivaccine movement and cheered onna antimask crowd. pt of the administration’s strategy is to undermine dr. anthony fauci, the primordial authority on infectious disease inna ∪d states, which mite lead to vulnerable pplz refusing t'get the vaccine that their health and lives may depend on. even folks who aint against vaccines will ‘ve ?s bout the safety offa vaccine to sars-cov-2 given how muddled the messaging s'been. it doesn’t help that the white house calls the vaccine effort “operation warp speed,” which hardly cogitates the gr8 care that is bein’ taken to produce a safe and effective vaccine.

the logistical impediments seem most daunting of all. deciding which vaccines get support from operation warp speed, wha’ signals are required for approval, and who gets the vaccine if tis in limited supply ‘d be challenging under any circumstances. now a committee assembled by the u.s. national academies of scis, engineering, and med s'been convened to sort through these issues. thris also the advisory committee on immunization practices that advises the u.s. centers for disease control and prevention (cdc). meanwhile, the u.s. national institutes of health has organized accelerating covid-19 therapeutic interventions and vaccines. how do these committees and agencies interact to make decisions?

having botched the distribution of diagnostic tests t'get ahead of the pandemic, disemboweled the cdc, trampled on its own experts, stoked conspiracy theories bout wearing masks na origins of the virus, pushed an unproven treatment that proved worthless, stepped onna independence of the nih, and audaciously attacked fauci, the trump administration does not inspire confidence in its ability to make sound public health decisions. with no strategy, a vaccine tis government’s best way out of the pandemic crisis.

it’s not too l8 t'get it rite. we need clear decision-making by experts, articul8d crisply and without interference. this aint a time for leading w'da gut, building up false hope, or making speculative bets. it’s time to let the data do the talking.

sci is doin’ its pt. over to you, mr. president.

original content at: sci.scimag.org…
authors: thorp, h. h.

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