Impact of the Pandemic into 2021
2020 was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic and expectations are that this will continue for the majority of 2021. Specific areas of the country, most notably the New York City area, experienced tremendous surges of patients that greatly stressed the entire health care system. We are now experiencing record numbers of cases and deaths across the country as the virus has continued to spread and hospitals all over the country are at capacity in terms of space and resources to care for these patients. In addition to the surges in patient volumes, we have experienced shortages of PPE, shortages of respirators, critical drug shortages, and shortages of COVID tests and testing reagents. Despite these issues, the health care community continues to rise to the challenges created by the virus.
Pharmacy across the country has played a critical role in mitigating the drug related challenges and in supporting the rational and evidence based application of COVID related drug therapy. Rapid dissemination of accurate drug information for COVID therapies has been a vital function for pharmacy during the pandemic. Pharmacy has also played a role in supporting public health measures to mitigate the spread of the virus through continuing education efforts around the proper use of masks, contact tracing, testing and social distancing. We expect all of these pharmacy related activities to continue into 2021.
The work by the PhRMA/Biotech/Academic Research community around the world to create an effective COVID vaccine has been amazing. New techniques have been developed using M-RNA to create vaccines in record time. Where vaccines generally take 4-5 years to create and test, the world working together has been able to create vaccines in one year. However, the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultra cold temperatures, which create subsequent cold chain distribution and storage challenges. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines also require two doses approximately 21-28 days apart, which creates further logistical challenges. To get the vaccine out to as many people as possible in as short a time as possible is a major logistical effort and pharmacy is playing a key role in the distribution administration and monitoring of the vaccine.
We expect the pandemic to dominate the health care landscape for the majority of 2021 and do not expect that the continued development and release of COVID vaccines will be a “magic bullet” that will eliminate the virus. It will likely be third quarter 2021 until a sufficient number of people are vaccinated to begin to have an impact. We are optimistic that the Biden/Harris administration is working to address the virus much more aggressively and is using national experts and the CDC to create and deliver a science based plan of attack.