Some virology thoughts: State of the Union

Now that I’ve had some time for cooler heads to prevail, I wanted to give some thoughts on President Biden’s State of the Union as it relates to the state of science (and science funding).

1) Vaccines & Therapeutics

In a section centered on the United States COVID-19 response, the sound bite Biden’s speech writers clearly wanted us to take home was that this virus no longer need control our lives. He championed vaccines, calling for approval for kids under five years old. He announced a ‘test-to-treat’ program, designed to streamline the process of getting antivirals to at-risk persons infected with SARS-CoV-2. In addition to making more tests available, he emphasized the need to expand access to Paxlovid, a viral protease inhibitor that has become the golden child of the Biden administration’s COVID response.

The reputation is partly warranted. A combination of two drugs, ritonavir and nirmatrelvir, they work synergistically, with ritonavir enhancing the bioavailability and nirmatrelvir inhibiting one of three SARS-CoV-2 proteases, 3CLpro (chymotrypsin-like cysteine protease).

Targeting 3CLpro is an attractive strategy, as the protease is indispensable for viral replication.

Overall, this section was warmly welcomed, and a light at the end of the tunnel for those of us who have been locked down in our homes for years.

2) Viral variant preparedness

In addition to reiterating the need for fast distribution of face masks and tests, Biden also highlighted a need to prepare for new variants, saying that his administration was poised to get new vaccines approved faster. How this fast-tracked approval would work was unclear, and how existing vaccine-mediated immunity would be considered was also absent this address.

3) Open for business

Biden left no doubt that it was a high priority for this administration to prevent the need for further shutdowns of schools and businesses. The implicit message, for me, was that we are reaching the end of an era where we are willing to shutdown to protect the unvaccinated (and by extension, immunocompromised or vaccine exempt individuals).

4) Vaccinate the World

Feeling like somewhat of a footnote was a plan to vaccinate the world. Although the notion of the U.S. footing the bill for global vaccination efforts is one unlikely to resonate with the average American, this effort is going to be critical for Biden’s proclaimed preparedness plan for the emergence of new viral variants.

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