October 31, 2020, marked an important milestone in American public health: the 80th anniversary of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dedication of the campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD. 

“We cannot be a strong nation unless we are a healthy nation. And so, we must recruit not only men and materials, but also knowledge and science in the service of national strength,” Roosevelt said in his speech on the steps of NIH in 1940.

“These words from our 32nd president are especially worth revisiting for their enduring wisdom during a time of national crisis,” Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, NIH director, said. As World War II raged overseas, Roosevelt’s actions ensured that the United States combatted the threat of global infectious diseases.

“In the midst of another national crisis—the COVID-19 pandemic—a similar vision is inspiring the work of NIH,” Collins said. “With the aim of defending the health of all populations, we are supporting science to understand the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and to develop tests, treatments, and vaccines for this disease that has already killed more than 225,000 Americans and infected more than 8.6 million.”

NIH’s strategic plan for researching COVID-19 includes:

  • Conducting studies to characterize and better understand how COVID-19 causes infection and disease 
  • Developing rapid, accurate diagnostics to identify, isolate, and track COVID-19 diagnoses 
  • Characterizing and testing potential treatments for COVID-19 
  • Developing safe and effective vaccines to protect individuals from infection and prevent future outbreaks 

The plan led to a phase III trial for a coronavirus vaccine and research to enhance testing for vulnerable patient populations, among other advancements.

“I voice for America and for the stricken world, our hopes, our prayers, our faith, in the power of man’s humanity to man,” Roosevelt said.

And Collins agreed. “Our science—and our humanity—will get us through this pandemic and show the path forward to brighter days ahead,” he said.