For well over a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has woven a deadly tapestry around the world. Millions have been infected, both in the U.S. and in countless countries. Untold thousands have succumbed to the illness. While the light at the end of the seemingly infinite tunnel is within sight for those fortunate enough to live in the United States with vaccination rates surpassing even the most ambitious targets of just a few months ago, the same could not be said for billions living elsewhere. Many countries, even those who could traditionally be defined as ‘wealthy,’ have struggled with distribution. If they have struggled, those at the bottom have been incapable of accessing substantial amounts of the vaccine, let alone deliver it to their citizens. They desperately need innovative options to successfully shield their populations from the pandemic.
At the World Patients Alliance promoting access to patient-centered healthcare worldwide is at the heart of our mission, and this often requires a careful and systematic approach to solving medical crises as they spawn. Representing the voice of millions of patients from all world regions and across all disease states, we have seen the dedicated and incredible effort it takes to reach distant communities with the most basic of aid, and are well aware of the work it will take to defeat this virus in far-flung regions.
For decades, countries around the globe from East Asia to Africa and South America have not been able to construct first-rate healthcare systems due to a variety of competing factors and, now facing COVID-19, continue to lack even the basic defenses against the virus. We are already witnessing growing disparities in care and, as a result, new variants of the virus are threatening to reach the countries where progress is being made to defeat it.
The amazing work done by private industry as well as federal and local governments have allowed the United States to leap ahead of nearly every other nation in vaccination rate, and as such its citizens have started to reap the dividends in a decreasing infection rate. However, these advancements lose their potency in locales where proper and reliable refrigeration might be hundreds of miles away – a restriction to which this virus is not held. When sickened by COVID-19, patients can be equally distant from a physician with emergency equipment. Several companies have recognized this and began pursuing next-generation options to fight the pandemic and reach these populations, including even developing a vaccine that can be delivered via a pill.
Beyond COVID-19, such innovative options could have immeasurable value. The same technology could be used to easily and rapidly vaccinate large populations through swallowing a pill instead of having to go to a trained specialist who would be able to provide an injectable dose. This would benefit everyone from Americans living in rural areas with reduced access to medical care to remote African villages in the Congo River valley.
For those of us living in the United States, the pandemic can never truly end until it is over for all people across the world. Even if the U.S. successfully vaccinate everyone living in this country (a tall order even riding the current trends) the virus could easily mutate elsewhere to the point where our defenses will have no effect. It is of critical importance not only that the federal government expands efforts to vaccinate the globe, but also should continue to support the development of innovative options so we can all, collectively, close the book on the pandemic for good.