One pandemic, two lenses: Why I am part of #TeamVaccines
Like many in our industry I have experienced this pandemic with two distinct lenses. The first as a scientist by training, working in the research-based pharmaceutical industry. The second as a mother, daughter and friend. The point where these two lenses converge is vaccination.
Professionally, witnessing the development of COVID-19 vaccines has been an incredible experience. As a scientist, I have had a long-held fascination with how the immune and endocrine systems work and our ability to fight diseases. The unprecedented research effort, building on medical innovation over decades, has meant we are seeing millions of Europeans rolling up their sleeves and getting protected against COVID-19. All this just one year on from the first discovery of the disease. I understand the science behind vaccination. I know the lengths companies and regulators go to in order to ensure vaccines are both safe and effective. I am acutely aware of the infrastructure required to deliver mass vaccination programmes and I know the irrefutable evidence that, over the last century, vaccines have been one of the biggest positive forces for global health. But despite knowing all this, what has been achieved by companies, regulators, governments and the EU institutions, in the space of one year, still feels like a modern miracle of science. It is the science and evidence behind vaccination that is one half of the story behind my commitment to getting my COVID vaccine. It is part of the reason why I am #TeamVaccines.
I have watched this pandemic evolve from an unknown flu-like viral outbreak in Wuhan, China to an epidemic, to a full scale global pandemic. Not just as EFPIA Director General but as a mother, a daughter and a friend. When Europe became the epicentre of the crisis, I watched in horror as Northern Italy, including many friends and family, faced the full force of the pandemic. As lockdowns became the new normal, I juggled home-working with home-schooling. I feared for my parents’ lives, worried about the impact on my kids’ education, about the lack of social interaction and the impact on their mental health. Like many, I missed time with my friends and family, particularly my parents who in turn, missed precious moments with their grandchildren. My heart broke as my children lost 3 important people in their lives and were not able to grieve with their friends and family, causing more damage than one could imagine at such young ages and I personally faced the impact of COVID-19 when the hospital where my mother was taken after a sudden stroke, closed its doors to us saying we could not see her unless she was dying. Indeed, my father and I were among the “fortunate” ones, as in Belgium they made it possible for us to sit by her side a day later and hold her hand as she took her last breaths, conscious of how many have had to die alone during this pandemic and of the pain of their loved ones in not being able to give any comfort or say goodbye.
This is the second part of why I am #Teamvaccines. I know that vaccination is the only way we can stop this pandemic in its tracks, stop families losing loved ones to the coronavirus, to get our children back in to full-time education, to reconnect with friends and family, to protect our mental health and kick-start our economic recovery. Vaccination is not just an individual commitment but a commitment to each other. It means protecting others by helping to reach herd immunity across society, particularly for those individuals who, for medical reasons, can’t take a vaccine themselves.
So as vaccination programmes roll out across Europe, I wanted to share my own reasons for being part of #TeamVaccines. Fighting this pandemic has always been a collective effort and never more so than now. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We can reach it. We can all make a difference by getting vaccinated; protecting ourselves, protecting our friends and families, protecting each other.