The Lessons and Challenges of COVID-19

Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine. Syringe and vaccine vial flat icons. Covid-19 corona virus vaccination with vaccine bottle and syringe injection tool.

There is so much being written about the COVID-19 virus, variants and vaccines these days. Sometimes the information is frightening and sometimes it is confusing. McKinsey and Company recently published a podcast interview between Diane Brady and two experts, Dr. Lieven Van der Veken and Tania Zulu Holt. In this interview is a lot of information about what we have learned throughout this virus and the vaccines. 

Here are some important excerpts from this interview.

Diane Brady: Tania, I’ll go to you in terms of the challenges now with regard to supply.

Tania Zulu Holt: One of the questions that many people are asking themselves is whether there’ll be enough vaccines for the world. There are many unknowns. On the one hand, there’s a diverse group of authorized, but also pipeline, vaccine products from producers from all over the world. On the other hand, there are also unknowns about the manufacturing-capacity scale-up and scale-out.

If we do take a look at just the publicly announced capacity of all the manufacturers that have a vaccine authorized in at least one country, we’re actually looking at enough manufacturing capacity to cover roughly 85 percent of the world’s population. If we are adding some of the vaccines that are still in late-stage development, we’ll probably get up toward 100 percent of the global population being able to have vaccines by the end of 2021. Of course, that’s the total that will be manufactured. A lot else needs to happen for these vaccines to reach that percentage of the population.

Diane Brady: Lieven, what are some of the lessons that we’ve learned over the past few months?

Coronavirus text and models of virus over planet earth.

Lieven Van der Veken: First, we have to recognize that the scale-up, even though it has felt slow and painful in many settings, is of an unprecedented nature. Even those countries that may have started out of the gates a bit slower—based on certain strategic choices or certain operational challenges—most of them have actually caught up with the supply that’s available to them. That’s an incredible achievement and the result of tens and hundreds of thousands of people working tirelessly day and night to deliver on this third major challenge of the vaccine campaign: the delivery. There’s the discovery, the manufacturing scale-up, and the delivery.

As we look back, we should not forget to celebrate that the development of the vaccine has come with unprecedented speed. Never before has a vaccine been developed with this speed. Never before have we had five or six candidates that actually have been approved in countries across the world. (That number has since risen to ten.) Never before have we actually seen such a manufacturing scale-up and scale-out with collaborations across the industry, collaborations across the globe. So there’s a lot to celebrate.

Having said that, we also have learned to appreciate how fragile all of that progress is, how important it is to continue to innovate the vaccine candidates in light of new variants, how fragile the global manufacturing networks really are. If we no longer ship the right supplies and the right equipment across the world, then plants could actually come to a halt.

We have learned how fragile the delivery scale-up is in cases where communications are falling short and populations lose their trust in one or multiple of the vaccine candidates. So a lot to celebrate—unprecedented speed, unprecedented scale—but also a lot of examples of the fragility of the progress we achieved to date.

Since these two professionals have a global perspective on the pandemic, the variants and the impact of the vaccines I think this interview broadens and globalizes our perspective as we realize that this is a global issue. The whole world is impacted by this phase of discovery and there is still much we can learn from each developmental phase.

Gerry Vassar


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