Since the launch of the federal and state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus, predictably, has been on how governments at all levels have fared in delivering necessary tests, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical equipment to ameliorate the spread of the disease.
But government hasn’t acted alone. Far from it. Behind every supply chain strike force delivering those items are the companies actually producing them. When it was clear that disinfectants and hand sanitizers were in short supply, major manufacturers retooled facilities. One example is Lost Draw Cellars in the Texas Hill Country. Distilling 600 gallons of wine to make 80 gallons of hand sanitizer, the winery made it available for free to help halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Private industry was mobilized to build ventilators in record time. General Motors, for example, retooled plants to make these complex machines.
As part of the urgent search for drug therapies, companies such as Gilead immediately began to test whether the antiviral Remdesivir, a drug it had developed for the Ebola virus, would be successful against COVID-19. The company moved forward with production so that supplies would be available if the trials proved positive. And in early May, the FDA granted an emergency use authorization to make it available to patients.
Pfizer, too, is fast-tracking a vaccine based on cutting-edge techniques. CEO Albert Bourla even said that “Pfizer is willing to spend $1 billion in 2020 to develop and manufacture the vaccine before they know if it will work.” The company is hoping to get emergency use authorization by October.
Since the onset of COVID-19, drug companies have been working tirelessly to find a cure. Billions of dollars in research and development have already been spent, and the numbers continue to climb. It is easy to forget the behind-the-scenes aspect of drug development — the drugs developed that never make it to human trial, or the years and years of research typically required for each individual drug and the amount of capital that demands. Despite all of the barriers, our American drug companies are incentivized to keep pushing forward because of the free market system.
Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Moderna Therapeutics, like Gilead and Pfizer, is headed down a promising path. “Moderna was able to develop and deliver a vaccine to the National Institutes of Health for clinical trials in late February.” If trials continue to go well, it is hoped that the vaccine will be available for health care workers this fall. By comparison, it took 20 months to develop an earlier SARS vaccine. That’s innovation at its best.
The same is true for the non-profit sector. While government-mobilized resources were instrumental in helping to sanitize and test all employees and residents of long-term care facilities, non-profit organizations took the lead and focused on client care and direct service delivery, critical to the COVID response.
Groups such as Catholic Charities, Meals on Wheels, United Way and many, many others have filled critical gaps for people dealing with isolation and loneliness, ensuring that they have social contact, food and other immediate needs. Without this vast network of volunteers and under-appreciated heroes — people who live out love and devotion — there would have been no respite from these ugly, trying times.
As we honor those front-line health care workers (and those behind the scenes who enable their work to continue), we should also honor private-sector companies and workers who are making a critical difference each and every day in the midst of a pandemic.