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Researchers should be applauded

You heard it first from this staunch supporter of the West Virginia University Mountaineers:

Hail to Pitt!

Calm down. As we reported last week, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers think they may have come up with a vaccine against the COVID-19 virus. It has only been tested on mice, and much work continues to be done, but the Pitt breakthrough is really good news.

So, yes, despite the longstanding, sometimes acrimonious rivalry between WVU and Pitt on the football field, the Panthers deserve a cheer.

What’s particularly interesting is that the Pitt researchers didn’t start at the beginning, so to speak, in developing a vaccine. “The researchers were able to act quickly because they had already laid the groundwork during earlier coronavirus epidemics,” as one news story put it.

That previous experience involved SARS and MERS coronavirus outbreaks in 2014.

We Americans have become accustomed to dealing with big challenges such as disease outbreaks — then forgetting about them. But the folks at Pitt realized in 2014 that another “emerging disease” would come along, eventually. So, they began research that now is paying off.

Yes, 2014 — before Microsoft’s Bill Gates, now being hailed as a leader in warning of the threat of emerging diseases, issued his prediction in 2015.

Good for the Pitt people for perceiving the threat — and devoting resources to research into a way to fight it.

Trouble is, as many scientists engaged in such research understand, it does cost money — and because our society is so overconfident about our ability to conquer nature, that often is in short supply. What will happen to the Pitt research team in, say, a couple of years, after (we hope) COVID-19 is consigned to the history books? Will federal policymakers recognize the resource at Pitt and pump a few billion dollars into it?

Are you kidding? The Pitt researchers will go back to where they were three months ago — knowing they’re doing something critically important, yet having to bow and scrape to find funding for it.

Now, of course, I’d like to see a good chunk of federal disease research funding go to WVU Health Sciences — which is doing excellent work on a variety of concerns, including opioid dependency and Alzheimer’s.

But Pitt (where Jonas Salk developed his polio vaccine during the 1950s), ought to be supported, too. One of these days, something worse than COVID-19 is going to come along — and researchers with even a few months head start on a vaccine are going to be worth their weight in gold.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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