More than a year after we began our video series covering biopharma’s response to COVID-19, Portfolio Manager and Research Analyst Dan Lyons discusses how vaccines are offering a path out of the pandemic and the potential impact to health care long term.
- Countries that have achieved high vaccination rates have also seen a precipitous drop in COVID-19 cases, offering real-world proof of vaccines’ efficacy.
- Vaccine distribution varies dramatically across countries but that has more to do with manufacturing capacity, not patent protections.
- We may now have a road map for ending the pandemic, but some changes in health care could be here to stay, including a greater appreciation for vaccines and improved diagnostics.
Michael McNurney: Welcome to Janus Henderson’s ongoing series on the pandemic. My name is Michael McNurney, and today I am joined by Dr. Dan Lyons. He is a biotechnology expert and Research Analyst here at Janus Henderson. Dan, hello.
Dan Lyons: Hey, Mike, thanks for the time.
McNurney: You know, Dan, first of all, this time last year there was a lot of uncertainty about the path forward amid the pandemic. Today, roughly half of U.S. adults have had their, at least first vaccine shot, with some countries even achieving higher rates of vaccinations. How much will growing vaccination rates allow us to return to “normal?”
Lyons: That is a great question, and, obviously, I am really glad to be speaking at this point versus where we were a year ago where we were really hopeful that there would be vaccines. As you said, about half of the U.S. population has now received their first shot, and there are a few countries that are ahead of us, actually, like the UK and Israel. And I think they provide a really nice road map and hope for us as we go forward. When you look at the statistics in terms of new COVID cases per million, essentially, the U.S. has fallen off dramatically off the peaks. But it is even more dramatic in Israel, which is ahead of us. And, essentially, they have dropped down to almost no new cases, and they have pretty much fully reopened at this stage. So life is kind of returning to normal pretty much without COVID. So that provides a really hopeful view as we continue to ramp U.S. vaccination efforts.
And the last thing I would say is, just in terms of the efficacy that we are seeing for the vaccines, a recent study in The New England Journal [of Medicine] reported kind of real-world vaccine efficacy, which was done in Qatar. And there they showed roughly 90% efficacy or, you know, protection against severe disease among people that had received the vaccine. And that was in the case of people that had the South African variant, one of the new variants to come out. And overall, about 97% protection against severe disease for more of the wild-type strains. So it is really encouraging to see how effective the vaccines can be in a real-world setting.
McNurney: What about outside of these areas that have had better vaccine penetration? I know the WHO [World Health Organization] wants to encourage vaccine waivers to increase global supply. Will that work?
Lyons: Yeah, no, and the very hopeful picture that I painted for the U.S. is unfortunately contrasted by the situation right now in places like in India, where we are currently seeing about 400,000 new cases per day and a substantial number of deaths, on the order of 4,000 deaths per day. So there is a massive need to get vaccines out to the broader population around the world. And so, in order to deal with the situation, the WHO has tried to encourage intellectual property waivers to ramp the global supply. But I think that is really not going to help at all, actually, and it could be very counterproductive. The real challenge has not been intellectual property. In fact, the manufacturer of one of the mRNA vaccines, Moderna, actually said that they would not enforce their COVID-19-related patents during the course of the pandemic. But the real bottleneck for them is actually just manufacturing capacity. Making mRNA vaccines is an entirely new industry and requires very specialized equipment and also know-how. It is really just those raw materials and the supply chain that are needed.
McNurney: You mentioned the situation in India, which as you said, is tragic. How might the situation in India impact the global economy’s reopening?
Lyons: From the global economy standpoint, my hope would be that we can get the vaccines available over the coming months into India and help them with the humanitarian crisis. And that, in turn, should also help economically. From the standpoint of risks about having this many cases in circulation, we are seeing new variants emerging in India that still appear to be not resistant to vaccines from the standpoint of prevention of severe disease. But it does appear that some of these variants can reinfect people that may have had COVID previously. And so as these new variants come out, that can cause challenges with reaching herd immunity. And it just contributes to COVID basically being kind of endemic and still around and a risk. So that is why I think it is really critical that we do everything we can to help other countries around the world with the situation.
McNurney: Yeah, Dan, the situation is still a little bit fluid. But looking back over the last year-plus, how has the pandemic changed health care? What are the big changes you see going forward, also, as a result of the pandemic?
Lyons: You know, we have seen in terms of the delivery of education about new therapies and the pharma industry’s use of sales reps, you know, all of that has pretty much gone virtual over the last year. In addition, physicians have gotten much more comfortable with and accustomed to using telemedicine. There are still many things you have to do in person, obviously, but I think there will be an increasing emphasis on those aspects of making medicine more convenient and accessible.
Another thing is I think we are seeing, obviously, a much greater awareness of the importance of vaccines, and we have seen more interest in the markets in some of the new vaccine technologies and companies coming out. And then the last thing I would just highlight, I think we are seeing countries around the world with improved diagnostic abilities to target things like COVID and respiratory diseases. We have seen a lot of innovation around point-of-need or point-of-care diagnostics. And so, I think a lot of this will actually help in the future. It will help health care providers get diagnoses quicker, so that they can actually make a difference.
McNurney: Well, Dan, we appreciate the insights that you have been able to provide over the last year-plus. I certainly look forward to the point where we are able to move past the pandemic and start to focus on the things that you specialize in and certainly the opportunities for investment that exist within the health care sector and beyond. So, thank you very much, Dan. We appreciate it and we appreciate all of our clients for their viewership as well.
Lyons: Yeah, thanks so much.