Weekly Columns

The holiday season is officially upon us. This year, however, it feels uniquely different as we remain in the midst of a deadly pandemic that is showing no sign of slowing down. Despite that reality, there is reason for optimism. 

We have learned a great deal about COVID-19 over the past several months. We understand more about how the virus is transmitted, the effects it has on the human body and the ways in which therapeutic treatments can aid recovery. We also know how we can protect ourselves, and others, from contracting it. That means following the “three w’s”–wearing a mask in public settings, washing hands and watching our distance–to help stem the spread. If we heed and act upon the advice of our medical experts, we can make a safer environment for our neighbors and our loved ones as we celebrate the holidays.

While the concern for increased transmission is understandably high as we enter the cold weather season, there is promising news on the horizon. Multiple COVID-19 vaccines are in the final stages of clinical development and may soon be available.

Pharmaceutical maker Pfizer recently announced that preliminary data from late-stage clinical trials show its COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective. A vaccine developed jointly by the drug company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health has shown in early trials to be more than 94 percent effective. A third company, AstraZeneca, also reported that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90 percent effective. Its breakthrough is a big developmentthat would be less expensive and easier to distribute than others that require cold storage.

Researchers continue to explore additional options. Some of that work is being done right here in Arkansas. Woodland International Research Group located in Little Rock is among the research firms coordinating clinical trials for potential vaccines.

The incredible medical advancements we are witnessing will help save lives around the world. These accomplishments are a testament to American ingenuity, resolve and our propensity to meet a challenge head-on. We would not be in this position so quickly without the work of incredibly intelligent researchers, the courageous commitment of trial participants and a historic public-private partnership to get this heavy lift off the ground.

Operation Warp Speed brought all this together. It is hard to say how far along we’d be in the process without the program’s multibillion-dollar investment in research and development. Similarly, moving at this rapid pace would have been impossible without the federal government’s commitment to pre-purchase a future vaccine and streamline regulatory authorization.

While we await the final approval for these vaccines, it is important to know that distribution planning has already been underway. Military planners are working with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure that states have a plan in place to efficiently administer the vaccines on a mass scale, adequate personnel to carry out delivery and the data tracking infrastructure necessary for a successful program. Operation Warp Speed continues to play a key role here as well, procuring the necessary supplies—such as needles and swabs—to ensure smooth distribution. 

2020 has been an incredibly difficult year. As we celebrate the holidays, let’s enjoy the season without becoming complacent. COVID-19 is still very much with us, but advancements on the vaccine front offer a brighter future.