Week 5 of TED2020 featured wide-ranging discussions on the quest for a coronavirus vaccine, the future of the art world, what it’s like to lead a country during a pandemic and much more. Below, a recap of insights shared.
Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute
Big idea: There’s a lot of work still to be done, but the world is making progress on developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
How? A normal vaccine takes five to 10 years to develop and costs about a billion dollars, with a failure rate of 93 percent. Under the pressure of the coronavirus pandemic, however, we’re being asked to speed things up to within a window of 12 to 18 months, says Jerome Kim. How are things going? He updates us on the varied field of vaccine candidates and approaches, from Moderna’s mRNA vaccine to AstraZeneca’s vectored vaccine to whole inactivated vaccines, and how these companies are innovating to develop and manufacture their products in record time. In addition to the challenge of making a sufficient amount of a safe, effective vaccine (at the right price), Kim says we must think about how to distribute it for the whole world — not just rich nations. The question of equity and access is the toughest one of all, he says, but the answer will ultimately lead us out of this pandemic.
Nir Eyal, Bioethicist
Big idea: Testing vaccine efficacy is normally a slow, years-long process, but we can ethically accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development through human challenge trials.
How? Thousands of people continue to die every day from COVID-19 across the globe, and we risk greater death and displacement if we rely on conventional vaccine trials, says bioethicist Nir Eyal. While typical trials observe experimental and control groups over time until they see meaningful differences between the two, Eyal proposes using human challenge trials in our search for a vaccine — an approach that deliberately exposes test groups to the virus in order to quickly determine efficacy. Human challenge trials might sound ethically ambiguous or even immoral, but Eyal suggests the opposite is true. Patients already take informed risks by participating in drug trials and live organ donations; if we look at statistical risk and use the right bioethical framework, we can potentially hasten vaccine development while maintaining tolerable risks. The key, says Eyal, is the selection criteria: by selecting young participants who are free from risk factors like hypertension, for example, the search for a timely solution to this pandemic is possible. “The dramatic number of people who could be aided by a faster method of testing vaccines matters,” he says. “It’s not the case that we are violating the rights of individuals to maximize utility. We are both maximizing utility and respecting rights, and this marriage is very compelling in defending the use of these accelerated [vaccine trial] designs.”
Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan
Big Idea: Peacemaking is a discipline that must be practiced daily, both in life and politics.
How? Having initiated sweeping economic, trade and social reforms, Afghanistan president Ashraf Ghani shares key facets of peacemaking that he relies on to navigate politically sensitive relationships and the ongoing health crisis: mutual respect, listening and humanity. Giving us a glimpse of Afghanistan that goes beyond the impoverished, war-torn image painted in the media, he describes the aspirations, entrepreneurship and industry that’s very much alive there, especially in its youth and across all genders. “What I hear from all walks of life, men and women, girls and boys, [is] a quest for normalcy. We’re striving to be normal. It’s not we who are abnormal; it’s the circumstances in which we’ve been caught. And we are attempting to carve a way forward to overcome the types of turbulence that, in interaction with each other, provide an environment of continuous uncertainty. Our goal is to overcome this, and I think with the will of the people, we will be able to,” he says. President Ghani also shares perspective on Afghanistan’s relationship to China, the Taliban and Pakistan — expressing a commitment to his people and long term peace that fuels every conversation. “The ultimate goal is a sovereign, democratic, united Afghanistan at peace with itself in the world,” he says.
Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp
Big idea: Tech platforms have a responsibility to provide privacy and security to users.
Why? On WhatsApp, two billion users around the world send more than 100 billion messages every day. All of them are protected by end-to-end encryption, which means that the conversations aren’t stored and no one can access them — not governments, companies or even WhatsApp itself. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more of our conversations with family, friends and coworkers have to occur through digital means. This level of privacy is a fundamental right that has never been more important, says Cathcart. To ensure their encryption services aren’t misused to promote misinformation or conduct crime, WhatsApp has developed tools and protocols that keep users safe without disrupting the privacy of all of its users. “It’s so important that we match the security and privacy you have in-person, and not say, ‘This digital world is totally different: we should change all the ways human beings communicate and completely upend the rules.’ No, we should try to match that as best we can, because there’s something magical about people talking to each other privately.”
Anne Pasternak, Director of the Brooklyn Museum
Big idea: We need the arts to be able to document and reflect on what we’re living through, express our pain and joy and imagine a better future.
How? Museums are vital community institutions that reflect the memories, knowledge and dreams of a society. Located in a borough of more than 2.5 million people, the Brooklyn Museum is one of the largest and most influential museums in the world, and it serves a community that has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pasternak calls on museums to take a leading role in manifesting community visions of a better world. In a time defined by dramatic turmoil and global suffering, artists will help ignite the radical imagination that leads to cultural, political and social change, she says. Museums also have a responsibility to uplift a wide variety of narratives, taking special care to highlight communities who have historically been erased from societal remembrance and artmaking. The world has been irreversibly changed and devastated by the pandemic. It’s time to look to art as a medium of collective memorializing, mourning, healing and transformation.
Honor Harger, Executive Director of the ArtScience Museum
Big Idea: Cultural institutions can care for their communities by listening to and amplifying marginalized voices.
How: The doors of Singapore’s famed ArtScience Museum building are closed — but online, the museum is engaging with its community more deeply than ever. Executive director Honor Harger shares how the museum has moved online with ArtScience at Home, a program offering online talks, streamed performances and family workshops addressing COVID-19 and our future. Reflecting on the original meaning of “curator” (from the Latin curare, or “to care”), Harger shares how ArtScience at Home aims to care for its community by listening to underrepresented groups. The program seeks out marginalized voices and provides a global platform for them to tell their own stories, unmediated and unedited, she says. Notably, the program included a screening of Salary Day by Ramasamy Madhavan, the first film made by a migrant worker in Singapore. The programming will have long-lasting effects on the museum’s curation in the future and on its international audience, Harger says. “Art changes minds, shifts mentalities, changes the behavior of people and the way they think and how they feel,” she says. “We are seeing the power of culture and art to both heal and facilitate dramatic change.”