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One year ago, when the pandemic was nothing more than a, in theory, rising threat on the Chinese horizon, several global conflicts were already on the verge of breaking loose.
It might be difficult to remember what used to be the center of attention before the real global crisis hit. There was, among other difficulties in the global ecosystem, a growing animosity between the US, China and Europe not to mention the tensions within EU itself.
The pains associated with Brexit, international trade, climate policy as well as global leadership quite quickly got cooled down as it became clear that corona was out to get the best of the world – regardless of individual countries relationships with each other.
However, as a popular saying goes; there is no stronger unifying force than a mutual enemy.
The pessimists were proven wrong
The coronavirus has indeed proven to be a forceful and intricate enemy and the response from the global scientific community has thus been both resolute and innovative. The result of it is now distributed around the world, within a year, not just one but several, vaccines have been innovated, created, tested, manufactured and distributed. The former quickest vaccine process was the mumps vaccine in the 60’s which took four years.
The pessimists were proven wrong and even if the battle against covid is far from over, an important milestone is achieved with the first rounds of vaccines present. The innovativeness of the covid vaccine is also itself worth mentioning, as the new mRNA technique is used for the first time.
How come then that so many of us underestimated the speediness of scientific research? Well, as so many times before, expectations were modelled on previous experiences. What is difficult to imagine is of course even more difficult to materialize.
One person who played a significant role in the speediness of launching the first covid vaccine is Pfizer boss Albert Bourla. The former veterinarian described as a true peoples’ person has been quoted saying most (people) “don’t really know their limits /…/ usually they have the tendency to underestimate what they can produce”.
Just imagine how more of this kind of mindset, paired with global cooperation similar to the one visible under the pandemic, could reshape other crucial areas of challenge. There are numerous urgent issues which would benefit from more openness and cooperation. Cooperation does not necessarily need to be the opposite of competition. In fact, the very fusion of the two concepts is really what was taking place during the pandemic.
Coopetition is a well-known phenomenon in sports, when a teams’ internal cooperation is crucial for succeeding in a competition. Similar to successful athletes and teams preparing for a championship, during the pandemic medical researchers and companies collaborated with more transparency and “team spirit” sharing insights about the virus along the way, making the quest for vaccine more feasible for everyone involved.
There has recently been signs of how coopetition is growing, although of course not without complications, in different business sectors. Some even argue the pandemic is a unique example rather than trend starter in this context.
On the other hand, it might just boil down to handling the obstacles involved right in order to achieve the desired result.
The handling of data is one of the areas in need of improvement when it comes to the field of cooperation. With the sharp rise of new technologies, which have been evolving even quicker during the pandemic, it is necessary for individuals to take charge of their own data.
This ethical dimension to integrity, whether it concerns the use of research results, an individuals’ health profile or internet activity remains unsolved. Sorting out the ownership aspect is important in order to gain the benefits of the same. More shared data will be able to enhance life in a myriad of ways. Yet, today lots of this valuable data is simply lost, or not even recognized – and in the worst-case scenario even exploited by wrong actors and interests.
The EU has not yet found its way forward in this area, which risks both stifling innovation and loosing out on the possibility of reaping the larger fruits in a growing global industry.
The recent covid vaccine process(es) are examples of how limits can be pushed beyond what is “believable” and as successful it has been as much does it reveal how much more work needs to be done.
The health care sector in large could undoubtedly benefit with more of coopetition. Imagine how successful the fight against major life threatening diseases such as cancer or antibiotic resistance could become with a dedicated response similar to the covid-research.
Hopefully the recent vaccine race is just the first impressive example of how coopetition on a larger scale will fold out in the 2020s.
📊 Facts about covid vaccine and the history of vaccine
Several covid vaccines use the new mRNA technology. These do not contain a live virus and instead “instruct” the cells how to handle the virus. Even if this technology is new it has been studied for more than a decade. Other covid vaccines are known as vector vaccine, these use a weakened live virus.
The Mumps vaccine took four year from research start to license. This was the quickest development program for a vaccine prior to covid-19. Many vaccines take 10-15 years to develop.