A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 28

Parke, Davis Co. production of pertussis vaccine, Detroit, 1943

Sunday, April 5

A lot of Big Pharma involves factory production on assembly lines, capitalist distribution, and of course Madison Avenue marketing, just as if the product were autos or dishwashers.

Back in the 1950s, Jonas Salk utilized large teams of lab workers to turn out his polio vaccine. Then, of course, there was the testing—for which he used the residents of various institutions including orphanages and homes for disabled kids.

Today, rather than focusing on one promising drug at a time, the Gates Foundation is building factories to manufacture seven different anti-COVID remedies, so they can all be tested at the same time. Bill Gates’ rationale is unashamedly economic: It makes sense to spend billions now when trillions are being lost. “Every month counts,” he says. Gates estimates it may take 18 months to develop an effective vaccine.

Meanwhile, drug companies seem to be ramping up production of various stuff to throw at the disease, just in case something works. CNBC pharma reporter Meg Tirrell says drugmaker Gilead will increase its supply of the antiviral Remdesivir, which is currently being administered in some hospitals to severe COVID-19 cases, to 1.5 million doses—but it takes six months to make the stuff.

Then there are other scientific approaches. In Italy, where the incidence of new cases has leveled off, officials imagine a Brave New World future in which citizens are tested to see if they have developed COVID-19 antibodies. If they have done so, they’re allowed to go back to work.

Will science be our savior this time? Really, there can be no other.

Dinner: more grilled pork chops, baked potatoes, okra, and green salad.

Entertainment: Berlin Babylon and The Crown, both from Netflix.

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