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Global Cooperation in Creating a Coronavirus Vaccine

The coronavirus pandemic has spawned a worldwide wave of nationalist rhetoric from the leaders of the globe’s leading economics, as they fight a virus which has no regard for national borders. Countries are hoarding stockpiles of essential supplies — masks, medical gowns, ventilators, face shields, and the like — while restricting and in some cases outright banning exports in order to ensure that their medical systems are sufficiently equipped when a surge in cases hits. However, there is one front where international cooperation is nothing like we’ve seen before: in the fight to develop an effective treatment for the coronavirus.

As research on nearly every single other subject has ground to a halt, scientists the world over are working frantically to find an effective treatment, and eventually create a vaccine, for SARS-CoV-2 (Severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus 2). This has led to global cooperation on an unprecedented scale. Scientists are ignoring standard procedures in order to hasten the sharing of discoveries being made about the mysterious virus. For example, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh recently discovered that ferrets exposed to the coronavirus developed a high fever, a discovery with implications in animal testing of a vaccine. Under normal circumstances, they would have started writing an academic journal article. However, within two hours, the information had already been shared with scientists the world over on a World Health Organization (WHO) conference call. Paul Duprex, the lead virologist of the Pittsburgh project, said of the cooperation: “It is pretty cool, right? You cut the crap, for lack of a better word, and you get to be part of a global enterprise.”

As an example of the worldwide cooperation going in coronavirus research, Dr. Duprex’s lab in Pittsburgh is collaborating with the Pasteur Institute in Paris and Themis Bioscience, an Austrian drug manufacturer, and are in talks with one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturers, the Serum Institute of India. They are receiving funding from a Norway-based organization called the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (which is itself financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

The disease has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and will claim hundreds of thousands more before the pandemic has run its course. The key to the timely creation of a vaccine depends on the cooperation of the world’s scientists. Perhaps their thoughts are best summed up by the words of Dr. Francesco Perrone, currently leading a coronavirus trial in Italy. “I never hear scientists — true scientists, good quality scientists — speak in terms of nationality,” he said. “My nation, your nation. My language, your language. My geographic location, your geographic location. This is something that is really distant from true top-level scientists.”

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