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'Our competitor is the virus': Experts collaborate in seeking COVID-19 vaccine

Collaboration among companies, governments and universities is speeding

Collaboration among companies, governments and universities is speeding the development of a potential vaccine against the coronavirus and should be a model for health care efforts after the pandemic, said speakers at a Northwell Health forum said Thursday. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Potential vaccines for the coronavirus may be ready for regulatory review by the end of the year, said one drug company executive at a virtual health forum Thursday.

The pace of progress is the result of collaboration among companies, governments and universities working to speed the development of a potential vaccine against COVID-19, speakers said at the third annual Constellation Forum held by the New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health.

The concerted effort should be a model for how health care should function post-pandemic, they said.

“We are all going through a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience which inevitably will change us all, and our organizations,” said Dr. David Battinelli, chief medical officer at Northwell.

The forum brought scientists, corporate leaders and others together online to discuss progress in fighting COVID-19 and the pandemic's long-term effects.

Joaquin Duato, vice chairman of the executive committee of Johnson & Johnson, which has a potential vaccine that recently entered clinical trials, said that despite media reports of competition to create a vaccine, “This is a situation where companies are collaborating, and our competitor is the virus.”

Johnson & Johnson is one of at least 18 pharmaceutical companies that are part of a public-private COVID-19 partnership with the National Institutes of Health.

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Duato said Johnson & Johnson hopes its vaccine will be ready for regulatory review by the beginning of 2021.

Cori Bargmann, head of science for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropy, said there also has “been a commitment to making these things available not just for the rich countries but to the low and middle income countries.”

Even so, leaders of developing countries and others have expressed concern that wealthy nations will monopolize early supplies of vaccines, and that there is a lack of a guarantee for equitable distribution.

Bargmann said she hopes collaboration on a coronavirus vaccine will lead to a realization that, with research in general, “only by working together and by sharing information are we going to make the progress we want to make, not by keeping it locked up in individual institutions.”

Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO who leads a commission created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to use the state’s COVID-19 experiences to improve telehealth and other services, said the overall U.S. response to the pandemic has been “horrific,” with a lack of a cohesive federal strategy and an unwillingness of many Americans to comply with mask-wearing and other preventive measures.

“We are at collective risk because the collective of America is not doing the hard stuff that New York State had to do,” Schmidt said. “Nobody wants to face this.”

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