As biopharmaceutical companies continue to fight COVID-19 through research and development, three companies have created programs empowering employees with medical or laboratory expertise to completely or partially pause their current roles and volunteer their medical skills to help their local health care organizations. The companies will support their efforts by maintaining the members’ base pay and providing full benefits. This is just one example of our membership supporting those on the frontlines. I was fortunate to connect with four biopharmaceutical company employees who are answering the call to volunteer their time and expertise.
Steve Ubl (SU): What inspired you to take up your company’s offer to volunteer to fight the virus on the frontlines?
Laura Perkins, MSN, MBA, RN, PMP, Advisor of Product Delivery, Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly) (LP): Prior to coming to Lilly, I worked as a critical care nurse. I like to remain connected to the broader nursing community and have served as a preceptor to both undergraduate and graduate nursing school students and helped with flu shot clinics. When this opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance because my mother is in a nursing home. I wanted to do whatever I could do to protect her and the nursing staff taking care of her. I also wanted to protect the nursing staff actively fighting this horrible virus on the frontlines every day.
Dr. Muhammed Ali, Executive Director, Global Market Access, Merck (MA): Many of us take up the calling to be a physician because we're choosing to help people. We all live by that philosophy. And suddenly in a moment of an unprecedented health emergency, society is calling on doctors and health care workers to stand up and be the shield. That moment in time is a moral imperative. Our mission at Merck is to save and improve lives, and at no time in history has this been truer. The opportunity Merck offered to support me as I volunteer in the fight against COVID-19, pausing my day-to-day role, is an extension of the reason why I joined the company.
Dr. Michael Cameron, Medical Director, Dermatology, Pfizer (MC): Being in New York City at the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. – hearing the ambulance sirens and knowing that some of my friends were already on the frontlines – made me want to get involved and do what I could to help.
Dr. Lynne Napatalung, Global Medical Director, Dermatology, Pfizer (LN): New York City is my home, and I saw the huge burden being placed on the hospitals here. As a physician, I immediately wondered if there was a way I could be of service. I felt passionately that I could not just stand by if there was a way that I could help, which is why I am participating in Pfizer’s Medical Service program.
SU: In what ways are you able to contribute to your community by volunteering?
LP: I serve as a volunteer in the COVID-19 Drive Thru Testing Program. I perform nasopharyngeal swabs on patients that visit the drive-thru testing clinic. Patients are scared, anxious, and sometimes angry for being exposed. I’m in a position to help answer questions, allay their fears and hold their hands. Nurses are often there at patients’ most vulnerable moments, so in addition to the swabbing we are supporting the patient emotionally.
MA: I have been fortunate to work for a company that has allowed me to maintain my skills as a physician. I have been enabled to step instantly back into my practice, which is caught in the epicenter of the outbreak in London and the U.K. My background, having led the regional team on Swine Flu in 2009 for the National Health Service, has prepared me well to support in the fight against COVID-19. I have been able to contribute to our COVID-19 community hub, seeing the sickest patients and acting as the filter for the overwhelmed hospital to save as many as we can.
MC: Currently I am seeing patients with presumed COVID-19 at a local hospital’s emergency room overflow tent. As the “hot-spots” within New York City change, it is possible that I will provide these services in different locations in the city where they are needed most.
LN: Currently, I am seeing and diagnosing patients with COVID-19 in a local hospital’s emergency room overflow tent. However, it is still in the early days, and the need for physicians and health care workers is quickly evolving. As the need evolves, my role will likely evolve, too.
SU: What do you want people to know about how the industry is fighting the novel coronavirus?
LP: The industry is acting with the utmost of altruism! It is acting for the good of the community. The industry and its employees are volunteering their time and talents to fight this monster.
MA: There are at least three efforts to which I see the biopharmaceutical sector contributing:
- Reform: Today, there is an ask of immediate help to respond to the pandemic, and the biopharmaceutical sector has risen to the challenge.
- Rebuild: As scientists around the world search for an answer to this pandemic, there will be continued need to build resilience and to prepare for the next pandemic. At the same time, we need to maintain our focus on upholding the flow of important medicines and vaccines overall.
- Regenerate: We are faced with the prospect of a long journey back to health systems and wealth systems. Digital transformations have been accelerated by decades and this will help us prepare for and respond to situations like these in future.
MC: I have been encouraged by the speed in which pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have not only mobilized, but also collaborated, to identify candidates for potential treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.
LN: I am so proud of how we as an industry and individuals are responding to this crisis. At the company level, Pfizer’s Five Point Plan is guiding all of our efforts to address this crisis. On a more personal level, everyone in every meeting that I have attended is so supportive of me stepping away from my responsibilities to support these patients. There has been no second guessing or concerns at all, and others are coming forward to fill my gap.
Learn more at PhRMA.org/coronavirus.