The Evolution of the Vaccination Lifecycle
COVID-19 significantly altered all facets of the healthcare and life sciences industry, especially the vaccination lifecycle. Scientists were forced to reconsider how they approach drug development and clinical trials, doctors had to adapt to new patient treatments both at home and in hospitals, and the approval and delivery processes of vaccines and treatments evolved like never before. As we progress through 2021, one thing is clear, the way it has been done will no longer be the way it will be done.
The pandemic highlighted many of the challenges in the clinical trial process and has forced pharmaceutical and healthcare companies alike to adapt quickly. We can anticipate that the industry will embrace new ways of working by reflecting on these lessons learned over the past year:
- Global Collaboration: As early as January 2020, about 10 days after the first reported cases of COVID in Wuhan, China, virologists were able to fast-track research and clinical trials because of global cooperation. Time was of the essence, and researchers around the world quickly rallied together to share data, find treatments and develop a vaccine for COVID-19. The effort represented a massive collaboration of countries, research institutions and industries. Additionally, data collected from the SARS epidemic in 2002 and MERS a decade later were shared and used to gain insights. Although we had not experienced a widespread outbreak like COVID-19 since the Spanish Influenza, scientists had already studied existing data on the genome and lifecycle of this virus.
- A New Way of Vaccine Research: Traditionally, the drug delivery process lifecycle has been lengthy, complicated and costly. But the pandemic led to a new era of vaccine research, pioneering the first agile clinical trial platform capable of testing multiple potential treatments in parallel and accelerating testing by pooling control data across patient groups. We’re already starting to see this agile model in action; antibody treatments, diagnostic tests and vaccines are quickly being adjusted by manufacturers and pharma companies to respond to variants of COVID-19.
- Clinical Trial Synergies: It is not uncommon for vaccine clinical trial phases to be combined, as was the case for developing the COVID-19 vaccine. When trials are combined, the vaccine is still evaluated with the same ethical, scientific and statistical standards. One of the major factors in the rapid completion of the clinical trial was the deep interest of volunteers for vaccine studies. Enrollment goals were achieved quickly, coupled with an increased number of testing sites that facilitated enrollment and allowed for extensive data collection.
- Partnerships for Intelligent Vaccine Distribution & Allocation: State and local governments have joined with the private sector to execute effective and equitable immunizations programs to combat COVID-19. For example, Google recently launched its Google Cloud Intelligent Vaccine Impact solution that uses core technologies to help governments conduct forecasting to improve planning and build awareness, confidence and acceptance of the vaccine. Tableau®’s COVID-19 Data Hub helps life sciences organizations visualize essential insights and build a more robust vaccine management response powered by data. Leveraging its logistics expertise, Amazon created pop-up clinics in Seattle as one of its multifaceted pandemic responses to expand vaccination sites’ capabilities. In the future, we can expect to see continued collaboration between government entities and the private sector to expedite response and treatment options.
- Vaccination Monitoring: Safety monitoring patients after vaccination will take about two years. While continued monitoring for vaccine efficacy, allergies and side effects is typical, technology is playing a larger role. For COVID-19, the CDC will monitor vaccine safety through the National Healthcare Safety Network and the smartphone application called V-safe, the most comprehensive vaccine monitoring system in U.S. history. With V-safe, users can notify the CDC about any side effects they may experience after receiving the vaccine.
While the vaccination rollout is starting to ramp up, there are still logistical issues to resolve (like storage, transportation and infrastructure challenges), high vaccine hesitancy to overcome and contagious variants to consider when it comes to testing. However, the knowledge we’ve gained already from this global event has clearly altered the course of the life sciences and healthcare industries. Collaboration, patience and agility are critical as we embark on resolving this world crisis now and prepare for the future.