After a fantastic few days at the World Vaccine Congress we at Vaccine Nation are just getting our breath back and reflecting on the amazing interviews that we were able to secure on-site. One such interview was an early morning meeting with Dr Jerald Sadoff of Janssen. A long-serving and highly regarded member of the vaccine community, he kindly offered us a brief insight into his work and opinions on the COVID-19 pandemic. We are delighted to share this insight with our community.
Introduction to Dr Sadoff
Although some may (rightly) argue that Dr Sadoff needs no introduction, he very kindly outlined his most recent experience for us. This includes contributions to a COVID-19 vaccine, among 13 other vaccines he has worked on. During his 50 years in the vaccine community he has “done the spectrum” of service, from big Pharma to non-profit.
Lessons from COVID-19
It may be a cliché, but with someone like Dr Sadoff in the hot seat we were keen to hear his thoughts on what lessons we should be learning from the pandemic. His initial response is a positive reflection on the international collaboration that ensued: “everybody stepped up to the plate”. In particular, he recognises the work of the regulatory agencies who “must have been working 25 hours a day”!
However, he admits that there were “limitations”. For example, because of the pressing and immediate need for the vaccines, we had to move at an appropriate speed. Thus, we had to take a chance and weigh the risks to human life and economic consequences against that which was “impossible to know”. What we did know, he suggests, is that the burden on human health and economic stability was great.
Dr Sadoff also considered the policy side of the pandemic. For him, the messaging was unclear, resulting in confusion. Scientific uncertainty is “not an easy message to give”. In conclusion, he would much rather be on the development side than the policy side!
What next? Variants or future threats?
We then asked Dr Sadoff about where our attention should be directed going forward. Should we “chase” variants or should we prepare for a future pathogen? His answer was a tactful “you have to do both”! We can’t rest on our laurels with the potential for future threats growing daily, but we also have to evaluate what we want to achieve from vaccines for variants. Overall, it depends on what the “goal” is for policy makers and the vaccine community.
He was clear that we “shouldn’t use flu as an analogy” – a position maintained by a number of well-regarded health experts. However, it is possible that we will have to conceive annual updates, or respond to new mutants, in a similar fashion to our approach to the flu.
Our final question is the rather self-indulgent “what are you excited about at this Congress?” and you will likely hear it a lot. It is important to us to understand exactly why these esteemed vaccine thought- and action-leaders come to our event so that we can continue to support and promote their work. Dr Sadoff’s answer touched on the fact that it is encouraging to see interest in “learning” and “going forward”. Furthermore, he was pleased to participate in discussions in which “new data” and approaches to other diseases were presented. Last, and by no means least, he reflected on the importance of meeting with colleagues.
Thus concluded our interview before Dr Sadoff hurried off to rejoin the plenary. It was a real privilege to speak to him, and we hope you gained as much from the interview as we did. We look forward to meeting again in the future to hear more.