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“The Road to a Vaccine”: A Live Series with Health Experts Navigating COVID-19

Recognizing the need for public awareness of how the healthcare industry is working to address COVID-19, Johnson & Johnson launched “The Road to a Vaccine,” a live educational program hosted weekly by journalist Lisa Ling. The series features key experts from health, research, science and beyond to explore the global effort to develop a vaccine against the disease.

On March 11th, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the rapidly-spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, acknowledging what had been deemed inevitable by some—that the virus would likely spread to countries across the globe. In the following weeks, Johnson & Johnson announced a lead vaccine candidate for COVID-19 through a landmark partnership with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, pledging a commitment to supply one billion vaccines worldwide for emergency pandemic use.

During this time of global uncertainty, Johnson & Johnson also recognized an opportunity to educate the public and provide insight into how healthcare companies, governments, and the greater global scientific community were working to address COVID-19.

On April 14th, Johnson & Johnson launched episode one of “The Road to a Vaccine,” a live, weekly educational program hosted by journalist Lisa Ling. The series features nurses and other frontline health workers, scientists, researchers, professors, and health experts from around the globe, examining the latest response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic and breaking down the complex process of vaccine development.

The first season of “The Road to a Vaccine,” which consists of eight episodes, has garnered more than 90 million views and over 60,000 social shares from people around the world. In each of the episodes, which were livestreamed via the primary Johnson & Johnson social media handles as well as the Johnson & Johnson Nursing Twitter and Facebook channels, Lisa Ling interviewed guests and shared questions submitted live by viewers. The season’s episodes covered a variety of topics, including how a coronavirus vaccine would work, parallels between the HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 crises, the ways in which the novel coronavirus has affected demographics differently, and firsthand accounts of what it’s like to be a nurse on the frontlines of a pandemic.

In the inaugural episode, Researcher Rinke Bos, PhD, Principle Scientist of Vaccines at Johnson & Johnson in the Netherlands, shared the success of vaccines in eradicating smallpox and protecting us from measles and rubella. She also enlightened viewers on how vaccination helps establish herd immunity—a phenomenon that occurs when a virus or other disease cannot easily spread from person to person because many people in a community are vaccinated. Dr. Bos even provided insight into how the COVID-19 vaccine would work: because the coronavirus has spikes on its surface, the vaccine would have antibodies that adhere to those spikes to prevent the virus from entering human cells, thereby preventing infection.

In season one, episode three, viewers heard from Margaret Hamburg, MD, former FDA commissioner, who worked alongside Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease—who is currently advising the Administration on the COVID-19 crisis—to help slow the spread of AIDS in the 1980s and 90s. While the novel coronavirus is a first-time pandemic experience for many, Margaret discussed some of the parallels between the COVID-19 and AIDS crises, such as the fact that they were both unexpected and laid bare the health disparities ever-present in our nation.

Episode three also featured expert Cato T. Laurencin, MD, PhD, who was able to expand further on the health disparities seen in coronavirus infection rates in the U.S. As author of the first peer-reviewed paper that studied how COVID-19 has impacted communities of color, Dr. Laurencin found that COVID-19 rates are 30% higher in Blacks than in Whites. Much of this, Dr. Laurencin explained, has to do with the fact that Blacks in the United States have higher rates of chronic health conditions—or comorbidities—which weaken the immune system, making them more susceptible to disease, including COVID-19.

On May 12th, the International Day of the Nurse and final day of National Nurses Week 2020, “The Road to a Vaccine” spotlighted two nurse innovators: Nicole Lincoln, MS, RN, APRN-BC, Senior Manager of Nursing Innovation at Boston Medical Center, a recent Johnson & Johnson Nurses Innovate Maternal and Child Health QuickFire Challenge awardee; and Rebecca Love, RN, MSN, FIEL, President of the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, & Leaders (SONSIEL) and a partner on the Johnson & Johnson Nurse Innovation Fellowship. In the episode titled, “How Nurses are Battling the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Nicole and Rebecca discussed the ways in which nurses are innovating on the frontlines of COVID-19 in the face of equipment shortages, how the pandemic is changing the nursing workforce, and the importance of keeping patients at the center of care despite the risks associated with the virus. To date, it is one of the top-performing episodes in the series due to high viewership and engagement.

At the time the episode featuring Nicole and Rebecca aired, more than 90,000 health workers had been infected with COVID-19 worldwide. Two months earlier, at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, Rebecca Love mobilized a grassroots effort to collect and directly deliver personal protective equipment (PPE) to nurses and other frontline health workers amid PPE shortages across the country.

Also facing equipment shortages, Nicole Lincoln shared that the nurses on her unit had to find safe, innovative ways to extend the use of their N95 masks for the entirety of their shifts to protect both their patients and themselves. Despite the great risk that comes with being a nurse on the frontlines of a global pandemic, both Nicole and Rebecca expressed that at the heart of every nurse is patient-centered care.

This month, “The Road to a Vaccine” returned for season two. In the premiere, Lisa Ling checked into the virtual AIDS2020 conference and interviewed top HIV/AIDS advocates including actress Laverne Cox, artist Tiko Kerr, Head of Clinical Development and Medical Affairs at Johnson & Johnson, Macaya Douoguih, MD, MPH, and many more. The discussions centered around the needs of the HIV community, why the development of an HIV vaccine remains essential, and how the learnings over the past 30 years from the quest for an HIV vaccine are being applied to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Throughout season two, which will run through December 1st, scientists, global health leaders, and other health experts on the frontlines of COVID-19 will be interviewed. The episodes will examine the latest medical advances and collaborations to create a coronavirus vaccine, which many are hopeful will result in a future without COVID-19.

In the final episode of “The Road to a Vaccine” season one, two world-renowned virus hunters and friends, Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer, Paul Stoffels, MD, and virologist Peter Piot, MD, PhD, came together to discuss how the last 30 years of infectious disease research has helped create the foundation and knowledge for us to quickly work to develop a COVID-19 vaccine for billions of people around the world. In the episode, Dr. Piot shared that “Curiosity is the mother of science, but it is also the mother of innovation.” In agreement, Dr. Stoffels added that only through collaboration, innovation, and the determination to find a solution, will we be able to end this pandemic.
The words of Drs. Piot and Stoffels show that while there is indeed a race on the road a COVID-19 vaccine—all of the players are on the same team.

To catch up on season one of "The Road to a Vaccine" or to begin watching season two, visit “The Road to a Vaccine” website, here.

Follow our @JNJNursing channels on Twitter and Facebook to watch the series live each week.

Want to read other interesting articles from the July issue of Notes on Nursing? Check them out here:
How a Nurse-Led Start-Up is Creating the Future of the Night Shift
Nurse-led Virtual Series Helps Adolescents Stay Calm and Well Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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