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Feeling Grateful This Thanksgiving for Biomedical Research

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Yes, we can all agree that 2021 has been a tough year. But despite all that, Thanksgiving is the right time to stop and count our many blessings. My list starts with my loving wife Diane and family, all of whom have been sources of encouragement in these trying times. But also high up on the list this Thanksgiving is my extreme gratitude to the scientific community for all the research progress that has been made over the past 23 months to combat the pandemic and return our lives ever closer to normal.

Last year, we were busy learning how to celebrate a virtual Thanksgiving. This year, most of us are feeling encouraged about holding face-to-face gatherings once again—but carefully!—and coordinating which dishes to prepare for the annual feast.

The COVID-19 vaccines, developed by science in record time and with impressive safety and effectiveness, have made this possible. The almost 230 million Americans who have chosen to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine have taken a critical step to protect themselves and others. They have made this season a much safer one for themselves and those around them than a year ago. That includes almost all adults ages 65 and up. While vaccination rates aren’t yet as high as they need to be in younger age groups, about 70 percent of Americans ages 12 and up are now fully vaccinated.

But with evidence that the effectiveness of the vaccines can wane over time and with the continued threat of the Delta variant, I was happy to see the recent approval by both FDA and CDC that all adults 18 and over are now eligible to receive a booster. That is, provided you are now more than 6 months past your initial immunization with the Moderna or Pfizer or 2 months past your immunization with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. I recently got my Moderna booster and I’m glad for that additional protection. Don’t wait—the booster is the best way to defend against a possible winter surge.

Children age 5 and up are also now eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine, a development that I know brought a sense of relief and gratitude for many parents with school-aged children at home. It will take a little time for full vaccination of this age group. But more than 2.5 million young kids around the country already have rolled up their sleeves and have some immunity against COVID-19. These children are on track to be fully vaccinated before Christmas.

I’m also extremely grateful for all the progress that’s been made in treating COVID-19. Developing new treatments typically takes many years, if not decades. But NIH’s Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) initiative, a public-private partnership involving 20 biopharmaceutical companies, academic experts, and multiple federal agencies, has helped lead the way to this rapid progress.

We’ve seen successes in the use of monoclonal antibodies and in the repurposing of existing drugs, such as blood thinning treatments, to keep folks hospitalized with COVID-19 from becoming severely ill and needing some form of organ support. Now it looks as though our hopes for safe and effective oral antiviral medicines to reduce the risk of severe illness in individuals just diagnosed with COVID-19 could soon be realized, too.

To combat COVID-19, rapid and readily accessible testing also is key, and NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx®) initiative continues to speed innovation in COVID-19 testing. RADx® also recently launched a simple online calculator tool to help individuals make critical decisions about when to get a test [1]. Meanwhile, a new initiative called Say Yes! COVID Test (SYCT) is exploring how best to implement home-testing programs in our communities.

More research progress is on the way. But, until the pandemic is history, please remember to stay safe this holiday season. The best way to do so is to get fully vaccinated [2]. As I noted above, most adults who got vaccinated earlier this year are now eligible for a booster shot to ensure they remain well protected. Go to vaccines.gov to find the site closest to you that can provide the shot.

The best way to protect young children who aren’t yet eligible or fully vaccinated and others who may be at higher risk is by making sure you and others around them are vaccinated. It’s still strongly recommended to wear a well-fitting mask over your nose and mouth when in public indoor settings, especially if there’s considerable spread of COVID-19 in your community.

If you are gathering with multiple households or people from different parts of the country, consider getting tested for COVID-19 in advance and take extra precautions before traveling. By taking full advantage of all the many scientific advances we’ve made over the last year, we can now feel good about celebrating together again this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!

References:

[1] When to Test offers free online tool to help individuals make informed COVID-19 testing decisions. National Institutes of Health. November 3, 2021.

[2] Safer ways to celebrate holidays. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 15, 2021.

Links:

COVID-19 Research (NIH)

Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) (NIH)

Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx®) (NIH)

When To Test (Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation & Technology, Boston)

12 Comments

  • Roseanne Woo Haltresht says:

    Happy Thanksgiving to the NIH team! May God continue to inspire this venerable institution for the betterment of humanity!

  • Steve White says:

    I am very grateful for modern medicine and especially for the SARS 2 vaccine, right at the moment, BUT, I wish we could discuss, honestly, the failing in the FDA response to the SARS 2 epidemic. We had the two vaccines we now most commonly use in March and Arpril 2020. IF they had been administered to high risk people starting soon after, it seems pretty certain huge numbers of people would have been saved from dying or being badly harmed by SARS 2.
    Instead, we got an emergency approval 8 months later – and, it turned out, we did not have a good plan for getting the vaccinations administered rapidly, so that really, the vaccines produced by March or April 2020 were not stopping the epidemic until almost a year later>
    IF we had done Human Challenge Testing of the vaccines to confirm Antibody Dependent Enhancement was not a problem, and allowed people at high risk to get it very soon after the testing, we could have had millions of the most vulnerable vaccinated before the huge Winter 2020/2021 surge.
    I do not want to be negative right before Thanksgiving, but unfortunately we may be attacked, or have a virus arise naturally at any time, so we need a plan where taking much greater “risks” is the default. (bypassing the normal approval process is not really “risky” when the known consequences of not doing so are so terrible)

    • Diane says:

      Public health is not just responding to a health crisis; there is the economic factor that also comes with it that insurance companies are well familiar with. Not to sound callous, but this is the reality of the $$ driven society we have created and live in, sometimes it is cheaper to die than to have life long health issues requiring unknown and unforeseen cost. Insurance companies have a cap on how much they dole out to a person. Ask anyone who has had metastatic cancer treatment following a re-occurance or ask anyone who has family members with dementia that require expensive care or better yet ask anyone who has a special needs child. Do you recall the thalidomide babies?
      Everything is easier in hindsight. But decision making in a crisis requires cool heads that can push back to special interest bullying. In 2008, the financial melt-down did not just result in bailing out banks but also insurance companies that insure them. When you got your stimulus check, did you notice the IRS link for signing up for a stimulus check was set up in 2008? Pandemics can happen at any time; how they are nipped in the bud is a different matter.

  • Rose says:

    Happy Thanksgiving! Appreciate your positive attitude!

  • Dr Vimala Veeraraghavan says:

    It is true. Timely vaccination does help a great deal. More often than not, human tendency is to relax their cautious nature and avoid restrictions. The Directors blog indeed is timely and reminds us all how the scientific community put in all their might to discover vaccines to fight and prevent covid. On this Thanksgiving Day we bow to all of them.

  • Chien-An Andy Hu says:

    Thanks for your leadership, vision, ethics, and determination to make those initiatives happened, and some already fulfilled. All the glory and honor to Him. Have a joyful, peaceful, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving.

  • Tom Horvath says:

    I and many others are immensely grateful for Dr Collins for his soon to be legendary leadership of the NIH and for Dr Fauci, truly a portrait of Courage under fire. These gentlemen showed how their faith has made them even better scientists and how character is essential to be an effective public servant. Deo Gratias.

  • John says:

    It must be a difficult and paralyzing way to go through life being mortally afraid of everything.

  • john frazier says:

    Thanks for sharing the story, for dedication all the glory and honor to Him. Have a joyful, peaceful, safe, and blessed Thanksgiving.

  • Patricia Chieffo says:

    Thank you Dr. Collins for your guidance at NIH throughout your tenure at this amazing institution!
    Your leadership will be missed, your shoes difficult to fill!
    Happy Holidays to you and your family, Keep Singing!

  • jack says:

    happy thanksgiving! appreciate your research and hard work

  • manish g says:

    nice blog

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