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Expert opinion

After more than 14 months living with COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, the importance of social support has never been clearer, particularly when it comes to raising children. As the physical links between households were cut, maternity and community health services restricted, and early years settings and schools closed, the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 rapidly slowed. However, so did the flow of essential social support to parents.
In 1978 I went to work in The Gambia as a junior doctor at the Medical Research Council (MRC) research unit hospital. With a population of less than one million at the time there was only one government ophthalmologist, Dr Shiona Sowa. I got to know Dr. Sowa well and heard about the work which had brought her to The Gambia - to try out new vaccines for trachoma.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked great interest in the mathematical models used to estimate disease transmission in the population. These models have figured prominently in the decisions of many governments, as they can help project the course of the disease, allocate people and resources, and  evaluate the impact of policies. But models - though undoubtedly valuable -  are not crystal balls; they are only as good as the available information.
At a record pace, the first new vaccines were developed and entered the market in less than a year since the sequencing of the new SARS-CoV-2 virus. This astonishing achievement was made partially possible due to decades of basic research targeting the underlying biology of similar coronaviruses, and earlier clinical development efforts with the utilised vaccine platform technologies.