Welcome back to Axios' special report about the science of pandemics. This week we look at collaborations between scientists in the U.S. and China, thorny questions about distributing a vaccine, the double whammy of the flu and COVID-19, and more.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
All the tough talk and finger-pointing between officials in the U.S. and China about this pandemic belies cooperation among scientists in the two countries who are racing to understand the deadly virus.
Why it matters: Pandemics are a global problem that scientists say require a global solution. But scientific advances are increasingly seen as a national competitive advantage, creating tension that some experts warn could undercut global efforts to defeat COVID-19.
What's happening: Scientists in the U.S. and China are working together on testing COVID-19 treatments and drug candidates, developing vaccines, and understanding the origin and spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The big picture: There are stark warnings of "vaccine nationalism" because if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, there won't be enough at first to immunize the global population.
The bigger picture: Atoms, bits and base pairs fuel the Great Powers race. The U.S. is trying to keep its top spot as China tries to establish scientific prowess.
Yes, but: The country's scientific enterprises are intertwined.
The U.S. and China both benefit from their collaboration, says Jenny Lee of the University of Arizona.
For some, those concerns are even more reason to collaborate.
What to watch: "Nationalism and attacks can erode even good collaborations [among international colleagues]," says virologist Richard Kuhn of Purdue University, who is also the editor-in-chief of the journal Virology.
The bottom line: Scientists are already multipolar, says Rajneesh Narula, a professor of international business regulation at the University of Reading in the U.K. "There can be three poles, which is what is happening: the U.S., Europe and China. Everyone is willing to accept that, except perhaps the poles themselves."
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
Global demand will be high for a successful COVID-19 vaccine, even if it's years down the road before any become available, Axios' Eileen Drage O'Reilly reports.
State of play: There will not be enough vaccines to meet initial demand, experts say. That's left nations racing to secure future supplies and international organizations scrambling to make sure there is equitable access to any vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
Beyond the logistical problems is the likelihood that nationalism could stymie the process.
Yes, but: Already there are signs of protective measures, which experts also acknowledge are natural tendencies.
The top priority for the first round of vaccinations, Smith says, should be people like health care workers and those in regions where epidemiologists say it would be best to halt the spread of the virus.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The seasonal return of influenza in the fall and winter is set to further complicate the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic — but it doesn't have to be a double disaster, Axios' Bryan Walsh writes.
The big picture: Influenza kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. But the flu has a vaccine — and a dedicated plan to increase vaccination rates could avert a magnified disease crisis.
The same social distancing put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 also seems to have brought an early end to this year's flu season. If those efforts continue into the fall and winter, "it's likely to help us somewhat with the flu as well," says William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The catch: If social distancing in some form remains in place — as many experts believe it will — it may prove difficult to distribute the flu vaccine.
Regardless, it's almost certain COVID-19 and the flu will be circulating at the same time this fall, says Richard Besser, CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "That makes it important to plan now for how we will deal with both outbreaks simultaneously."
What to watch: Assuming an effective COVID-19 vaccine can be developed, the world will need to produce hundreds of millions of doses, if not far more.
The bottom line: Doctors will need to be on guard — and Americans will need to get their flu shots — to ensure that influenza doesn't make a bad COVID-19 pandemic even worse.
What if immunity to COVID-19 doesn't last? (Antonio Regalado — MIT Tech Review)
Why the coronavirus feels so risky (Bryan Walsh — Axios)
Why Romans grew nostalgic for the deadly plague of 165 A.D. (Edward Watts — Zócalo Public Square)
A sobering astronomical reminder from COVID-19 (Avi Loeb — Scientific American)
Daniel Defoe's "A Journal of the Plague Year"
We live this pandemic by charts and graphs — case curves, peaks and plateaus, tweeted, printed and broadcast.
That wasn't always so.
Why it matters: Today there is a relative wealth of data in which we seek comfort, guidance — and even validation.
The bottom line: Just like for the characters in Defoe's book, the question of where we are in this story is very much unknown.
Like what you’re reading? Sign up for Axios Science to get the latest news on scientific advances. The newsletter will return Thursday, May 21.