What is the exit strategy from this pandemic? The world has rightly focused on social distancing and other efforts to slow the spread of the virus. It is a smart strategy to flatten the curve; not a plan to end the pandemic.
Effective treatment and a vaccine provide the only exit strategy. Over 200 research programs have been launched and around 100 potential vaccines and 140 treatments are in the pipeline. But viruses move fast. Vaccine and drug development does not. On average, it takes at least 10 years for a new medicine to move from initial discovery to approval.
There is a major risk that solutions become available but are too expensive or not well suited for low-resource settings. The history of pharmaceutical development shows us that when a new drug or vaccine is produced, it is first available to those able to afford it. There is a typical lag of up to seven years from the time a new medication or vaccine is available in a developed country to the time developing countries have access.
There are two truths that are almost too obvious to state here: First, we can’t wait seven years for an exit strategy to this crisis. Second, if COVID-19 is spreading anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere.
Business as usual won’t work. We need to throw all we have at R&D, slow the spread of infection, and simultaneously build the capability to get the successful vaccine and treatment to everyone that needs it fast.