Silver lining of COVID-19 pandemic: medical innovations, including a possible oral vaccine

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo.— In a normal era, healthcare innovation is costly and takes years to advance.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered a silver lining.

Just like warp speed advances in vaccine development and distribution, Swedish Medical Center in Englewood has put healthcare innovation on the fast track.

For example, the ER check-in process now features an iPad where a nurse practitioner or a doctor is in the back listening in as soon as the patient walks through the door, cutting out multiple steps, touch points and layovers.

“To keep folks safe and to expedite their time in the emergency department,” said Dr. Nick Tsipis, emergency department director at Swedish Medical Center. “We can learn about you in real-time while simultaneously looking up your past records.”

Up at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, a first-of-its-kind and breakthrough type scenario is unfolding, as scientists and researchers like Dr. Marcela Henao-Tamayo are already developing a vaccine for the next pandemic.

“Vaccines against what we call pan-coronaviruses,” Henao-Tamayo said. “And not just the ones that we know about, but ones that we know might be infecting humans in the future that are currently in some animal species, like bats and probably some others.”

Dr. Gregg Dean and his team are even developing an oral vaccine.

“Lactobacillus acidophilus, a pro-biotic bacteria that’s in a lot of different foods, including yogurt,” Dean said. “An orally delivered vaccine strategy.”

Dean said although complicated, anything is possible.

“It’s a complicated process, but we have reduced it to a manageable procedure, really.” Dean said. “We have developed it to the point that we’ve done animal studies.”

Those advances would have the potential to reach people in impoverished countries and virtually every corner of the world.

“It doesn’t require refrigeration,” Dean said. “That is not so easy everywhere in the world. Now, you don’t necessarily need trained medical personnel to deliver it.”

COVID-19 may have been a gut punch, but it also motivated the best among us to find solutions to issues so that we’re never caught off guard like this again.

“When we’re able to do something to put our skill sets to use to solve problems that people have in our community, we’re paying back and we’re paying forward that investment that they make in us,” said Ray Goodrich, director of the Infectious Disease Research Center at CSU.

“I think it was the first time that we saw some interest in trying to be prepared for the next pandemic,” said Henao-Tamayo. “And that is a wonderful thing.”