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Viewpoint: Vaccine development underscores bioscience’s lifesaving value

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By Michael Fleming
Guest Columnist

Michael Fleming | Guest Columnist

As the COVID-19 vaccine begins to be rolled out with our front-line health care workers and those most at risk in Delaware and across the country, it is worth reflecting on the historic nature of this extraordinary, lifesaving achievement.

Biopharmaceutical industry researchers have delivered one of the most impressive accomplishments in modern science: two safe, effective vaccines against a global plague, developed in record time. And there are hopefully more to come soon, often the product of successful collaborations between private businesses and academic researchers, boosted by government support.

Companies have also received approval for a range of therapeutics to treat COVID patients, which will surely save countless lives and reduce suffering for those who contract the virus.  

The year we close has been a difficult and grueling one in so many respects, but this story is a shining, promising example of the transformational impact the bioscience sector can – and is – having for the good of the entire world, every day.

While the pandemic will unfortunately continue to extract a toll on our society in the coming months, at this special time of year we can be thankful for the bioscience innovation that will ultimately end this health crisis – and likely the next one.

Certainly, few innovations in the annals of medical science have had more far-reaching impact than the discovery and widespread use of vaccines.

Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that somewhere between 2 million and 3 million lives are saved each year thanks to vaccines. Vaccines prevent lifelong disability, reduce child mortality and help eradicate devastating, highly contagious diseases like measles, mumps and polio, ending smallpox altogether.

In fact, since 1977 it is estimated that vaccines saved from 150 million to 200 million lives that would have been lost to that one disease alone.

Vaccines are also one of the most cost-effective investments in health care, providing immense value while being widely accessible.

No medicine or vaccine is side-effect free, but the safety track record for vaccines is impeccable. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the gold standard for approving new medicines and vaccines, carefully evaluating the cost-benefit ratio and safety profile of every product. That is why every American who meets the appropriate criteria should feel confident in getting the COVID vaccine when it is made available.

For those with questions about the vaccine, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) has launched www.covidvaccinefacts.org, a website addressing basic facts and common concerns about the vaccine. The site answers questions such as, “what is a vaccine,” “how are vaccines developed” and “how will we know a COVID-19 vaccine is safe,” drawing on scientific and evidence-based information from the FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC itself also has comprehensive information about vaccine safety on its website.

Everyone with questions should seek out accurate information about vaccines to understand the true benefits and attendant risks.

They should also have confidence knowing that the gifted bioscience researchers and workers in Delaware and across the country who are developing vaccines and treatments and producing equipment, tests and devices have devoted their lives to the noble work of keeping us safe.

We are fortunate in this state to have companies and institutions on the front lines of fighting COVID, but also diseases like cancer and diabetes and some of the cruelest illnesses impacting children. These scientists are deploying and pioneering the most advanced technologies in their research, from gene editing to artificial intelligence.

Their dedication and commitment and success will help ensure 2021 is a healthier year than the one we are putting behind, something in which we can all rejoice.

Michael Fleming serves as president of the Delaware BioScience Association.

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