- Announcement – L.J Tan (IAC)
- Update on SARS-CoV-2 Variants in the U.S. – Michael Johansson and Summer Galloway (CDC)
- HHS COVID-19 and Flu Public Education Campaign – Mark Weber and April Brubach (HHS)
Announcement – L.J Tan (IAC)
Webinar – L.J reminded partners about the upcoming Summit webinar, Developing COVID-19 Vaccines in Record Time: Part 3. At this follow-up to two virtual meetings on COVID-19 vaccines conducted by the Summit in 2020, eight vaccine manufacturers will present information on their COVID-19 vaccines and/or vaccine candidates in later clinical trial phases (Phase 2/3), as well as vaccines in earlier phases of clinical development. The meeting will be moderated by Phyllis Arthur, Vice President, Infectious Diseases & Diagnostics Policy, at BIO. Summit partners wishing to attend the meeting should contact L.J Tan.
Update on SARS-CoV-2 Variants in the U.S. – Michael Johansson and Summer Galloway (CDC)
Summer and Michael co-presented on the Emergence of SARS-CoV-2 B.1.1.7 Lineage in the U.S.
This information also was published in a MMWR report on January 22. Data from the U.K. estimates this variant to have increased transmissibility of 40–70%. First identified in the U.S. in mid-December 2020, it has now been identified in 28 states. The most recent information on reported cases is available on CDC’s U.S COVID-19 Cases Caused by Variants webpage.
In addition to the U.K. variant, B.1.351 has been identified in South Africa and P.1 has been found in Brazil. Substitutions in the spike proteins of these variants likely affect binding and may impact protection from previous coronavirus infection. A study in Brazil in the Manaus region found about 75% of residents had been infected by October, and this was associated with higher rates of reinfection in that region.
CDC has developed models to anticipate the trajectory of the B.1.1.7 variant in this country and to consider if it is more infectious when compared to other strains. In all scenarios, this variant is projected to be the dominant strain in the U.S around mid-March. The models also indicate increased vaccination could have a substantial impact on transmission.
CDC is enhancing surveillance for all strains of the virus, and this information is shared on the agency’s National Genomic Surveillance Dashboard. This includes the National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance System (NS3). The goals of NS3 are to establish a representative system for baseline virus surveillance, build a collection of representative SARS-CoV-2 specimens and sequences, and isolate and characterize the viruses.
Multiple efforts are underway to expand and enhance surveillance for SARS-CoV-2. Public health labs are now being asked to submit 1,500 specimens every 2 weeks. The program also has expanded to increase specimen submission from commercial labs, with a target of 6,000 specimens per week. Contracts have been awarded to 11 sites to improve genomic surveillance. The SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology, and Surveillance (SPHERES) program was established in April to coordinate and accelerate expertise on molecular epidemiology, including development of consensus guidance on critical metadata standards. The SPHERES Consortium now involves more than 170 organizations. Genomic surveillance also has been increased through the Department of Defense and multiple other sources, allowing for sequencing of more than 27,000 specimens per month.
In response to questions, Summer agreed that the more transmission occurs, the more opportunities there will be for the virus to mutate, with the possibility that a vaccine evading variant could emerge. Discussions are underway with WHO to develop a global surveillance system.
HHS COVID-19 and Flu Public Education Campaign – Mark Weber and April Brubach (HHS)
Mark and April provided a presentation on the planning underway at HHS for a COVID and flu education campaign. Multiple challenges are involved in addressing this complex issue, including high skepticism about the vaccines. As vaccine availability increases, science-based public education campaigns can help motivate behavior change. Multiple audiences will have differing education needs, and public messaging will evolve throughout the campaign. The principles underlying CDC’s Vaccinate with Confidence program will serve as the foundation for the campaign.
The HHS campaign includes a three-prong strategy: slow the spread, prepare the nation, and build vaccine confidence. This will be done by providing general audiences with action steps they can take and information about the vaccine development process. The campaign targets the “moveable middle” by using public education to build confidence in those who are hesitant about receiving vaccine. It will be important to identify trusted messengers to share these messages.
Partnerships with federal agencies, corporations, foundations, and other supporting organizations will be key, such as the important collaboration between HHS and the Ad Council. In January this group launched 4 videos of healthcare professionals answering questions about COVID-19 vaccination. Further outreach is planned for targeting at-risk individuals, and a program for pharmacists also is planned in the coming weeks.
Overall, the campaign is intended to connect the public with credible information to increase vaccine confidence while reinforcing basic prevention measures. The campaign is designed to achieve a 90/10 “Reach/Frequency,” meaning 90% of the American adult population would be reached at least once (per quarter), and on average they would be reached at least 10 times.
The campaign emphasizes reaching vulnerable populations with culturally competent information, often through local or grassroots efforts. In particular, these populations include seniors greater than 65 years of age, people with comorbidities, and racial/ethnic populations. The framework for messaging must be flexible to adapt to the latest developments in COVID-19 and vaccine availability, as well as to synchronize communications with emerging research and data insights.
A large-scale paid public education effort, Slow the Spread, has begun to provide clear, accurate, and actionable information about how to combat both COVID-19 and flu. The campaign includes radio, print, and paid social media components, and it will run at least through February 14.
In addition, Preparing the Nation paid media messaging began in December. This provides general audiences with information about the vaccine development process and includes tailored messaging for those who are disproportionately affected and in areas of the country with the highest infection rates.
All campaign messages and materials have been developed through a science-based process for communications development, including both qualitative and quantitative testing to assure the materials are effective and do not have unintended consequences in differing population groups. Multiple focus groups were held with disproportionately affected populations, and a 20-minute online survey with the general public will be conducted in February to test ads developed using the qualitative research insights.
Wave 1 of the Vaccine Confidence ads are expected to be in market in early February, followed by a staggered launch of additional creative materials through March. HHS will work with partners through release of communication toolkits tailored for community-level groups serving disproportionately affected audiences. This effort will be increased as more vaccines become available.
In essence, HHS plans to be the “coordinating network of networks,” working with CDC and building relationships with national organizations already existing within the HHS family of agencies.
One partner asked about the availability of additional resources dealing with misinformation about COVID-19 vaccine and fertility. Although HHS does not yet have materials for this audience, they will in the future. L.J noted that he would check with ACOG for additional information on this issue.