Academy award-winning actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for COVID-19 in March and now both coronavirus-free. The actor says although he did not have symptoms as bad as his wife, he felt “wiped out” while in isolation at a hospital in Queensland, Australia as he struggled with the Coronavirus. Now, on the other side of that illness, the 63-year-old is getting personal about the battle he and his wife Rita experienced. And now, they both plan to donate blood to aid research on a potential vaccine.
Researchers hope that using plasma from coronavirus survivors will prove to be effective, but it is still in an experimental phase. The concept would be to give sick patients antibody-rich blood plasma from people who have recovered from the COVID-19 to help them fight off the virus. Many experts are saying that we can expect a COVID-19 vaccination in 12 to 18 months. They argue that the science is straightforward. The same cannot be said, though, of clinical testing and manufacturing vaccines at scale.
It typically takes five years to bring to market a vaccine for a new disease. Previous efforts to produce vaccines on a large scale, including a government-funded effort by Novartis to build a flu-vaccine facility, took years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, the Novartis facility’s initial capacity was only 50 million vaccines a year —enough to serve just 15 percent of the U.S. population.
Rather than counting on a vaccine to quickly resolve the health and economic challenges arising from COVID-19, it is more realistic to plan for the small supply of vaccines likely to be made available in 2021. At that point, the quest will be finding ways to use the vaccine alongside strategies such as social distancing and diagnostics to limit further spread of the virus.
Hanks and his wife, who have been married for 32 years, were in Australia where the “Castaway” actor was shooting a movie when they were diagnosed with the virus. According to Hanks, his wife went through a tougher time than he did. Wilson had a much higher fever, lost her sense of taste and smell for nearly three weeks. When speaking of the couple’s contribution to the resolve for the Coronavirus, Hanks said:
We have not only been approached, but we have also said, ‘Do you want our blood? Can we give plasma?’ And, in fact, we will be giving it now to the places that hope to work on what I would like to call the Hank-ccine.
President Donald Trump just predicted a vaccine would be ready by the end of the year. However, even if the FDA approves a new vaccine, there will not be enough supply to quickly vaccinate millions of Americans. Rather than assuring the public that a vaccine is coming and everyone will have access, he and other leaders should prepare for the more likely scenario — that the country will have a limited vaccine supply that it must be used in combination with other measures, such as social distancing, testing, and treatments.
According to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, there have been over 3,157,459 cases worldwide. In the United States, over 56,000 have died of the Coronavirus. Aa many cry for a sense of normality, some states are now starting to slowly reopen their economies as the infection rate dropped in some hotspots. Others have warned that easing the restrictions could lead to another wave of COVID-19 cases.
After recovering, the couple returned home to Los Angeles in late March. Although the beloved actor jokingly coined the name of the vaccine “Hank-ccine, there could be no better ending to this international catastrophe than if the cure turns out to be the blood of one of the country’s finest entertainers.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
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