The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) convened by videoconference on Dec. 10 and 11 to hear the nation’s top researchers discuss the progress of COVID-19 vaccine development, the long-term health impacts of patients who contracted the virus, and initiatives to improve community engagement.
The first day’s deliberations focused on the NIH’s research efforts around COVID-19. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, MD, presented on the relatively rapid progress of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed — a collaboration with the NIH, Department of Defense, and other organizations. Fauci noted that the 11-month span from identification of the virus to a functional COVID-19 vaccine represents an extraordinary advance over the decades it took to develop previous vaccines, such as for measles or hepatitis B. This progress notwithstanding, other NIH institute directors presented ongoing efforts largely under two umbrella programs, Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) and Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx), that involve NIH collaborations with academic, industrial, and foundation partners.
One reason cited for the speed with which these research programs have moved quickly is that they make use of previously established research networks, such as the NIH-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award hubs at academic medical centers. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Director Gary Gibbons, MD, reviewed initiatives for outreach and community engagement that improve broad participation in research and promote uptake of vaccines and other measures. Gibbons and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Director Eliseo Pérez-Stable, MD, are leading the NIH’s Community Engagement Research Alliance to combat COVID-19 through community engagement. ACD members commented on the primacy of building trust among researchers and communities in confronting the pandemic.
Even if efforts to end the pandemic are successful, there will still be long-term consequences for public health. National Institute on Neurological Diseases and Stroke Director Walter Koroshetz, MD, presented the most current information on post-acute COVID-19 — evidence of neurological, coronary, and other conditions exhibited in many patients following infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Koroshetz warned of a “post-pandemic storm” with tens of thousands of patients suffering more chronic conditions, which will require further research from across the NIH.
The second day of the ACD virtual meeting was mostly devoted to ACD working group reports, including a preliminary report for improving the rigor and reproducibility of research with animals and a report on the near-final draft NIH-wide strategic plan. Videocasts and handouts from all ACD sessions are available on the 2017-2020 ACD Meetings webpage.