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Time sure flies, except when you are waiting for something to happen.
Patience may be a virtue; however, in today’s “I want it now” society, it often is in short supply. Immediate gratification is expected, be it a pizza delivery, customer service response, drug or vaccine to fight a pandemic. For an impatient audience, a slower-than-expected response can lead to complaints, criticism, and distrust.
Yes, I am using clichés; however, these adages help explain the distorted perception of time during the current pandemic, frustration with limits on personal freedom, and the need to temper expectations for when we “get back to normal.”
Time in 2020 has been skewed. It seems like it was yesterday—and years ago—that concern about the spread of the virus forced the closure of BioPharm International’s physical offices, relocating the staff to home offices. In reality, the stay-at-home guidelines have been in place for five months.
Like others, I would enjoy getting out in public, share a meal with friends, or attend a ballgame without worrying that the next person is six feet away and wearing a mask. Science tells me, however, that social distancing is the best defense against the virus now. I choose to believe science.
An Albert Einstein quote offers an excellent description of this feeling of both fleeting and lagging time and suggests an effective way to handle anxiety and frustrations with the ongoing global crisis. “Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing.”
Obviously, drug researchers are making the most of the short time that has passed since the virus was first discovered. The pace of research and race to get a COVID-19 vaccine has been accurately described as unprecedented, surpassing previous emergency vaccine programs. The time from viral genetic-sequence selection to first-in-human study was about two months; in comparison, in 2003 the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) vaccine required 20 months to bring to clinic.
Meanwhile, drug companies are also racing to test new or existing therapies to treat the effects of the virus. Development efforts that typically take years have been compressed into months. As knowledge about the virus and its impact on humans continues to grow, treatments and public health practices are evolving and improving with time.
For some members of the general public who are not familiar with public health practices, the stay-at-home recommendations seem draconian. For those not familiar with the intricacies of drug development and manufacturing, new vaccines and treatments are not reaching patients fast enough. While the pandemic has brought out the best in bio/pharma science and technology, it has, unfortunately, brought out negative behavior in the form of miscommunication—and even conspiracy theories—about the virus, public health orders, and drug company motives to combat the pandemic.
The result of this misinformation, whether intentional or accidental, is that potentially damaging information is presented as fact, with health implications for people who ignore public health advice or engage in harmful practices, as well as people in their communities.
Scientists from academia, government, and industry have shared knowledge and discoveries and published thousands of studies. This information sharing needs to extend to the public, in particular those that are accepting the theories not based on science. And, drug companies developing treatments and vaccines should share data; they should not raise unrealistic expectations.
Professionals engaged in science and technology can help explain why patience is not just a virtue but a necessity. It will take science some time to resolve the pandemic. What we do during that period will determine if it was time well spent.
Rita Peters is editorial director of BioPharm International.
Vol. 33, No. 8
When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, "It’s Time to Listen to Science," BioPharm International, 33 (8) 2020.