How an old disco became the global epicenter of the fight against Covid-19

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How an old disco became the global epicenter of the fight against Covid-19

The Rojo Bar functioned as a club until it became a laboratory. It was used by Pfizer to develop the vaccine.

The space was closed in 2002.

In 2002, Fernando Polack entered the Rojo Bar, a night club in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. The space had just been closed after the owner became increasingly disillusioned with the business of the night – and supposedly the way people got involved without the glamor of yesterday.

At the time, Polack was a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA. “It was a big, dark club with a John Travolta mirror ball. It had no windows and was therefore perfect for the installation of a medical laboratory, “commented Fernando Polack with the newspaper” El País “in the introduction to the story of how an Argentine disco became the epicenter of the global fight against Covid-19.

This is how the Fundação Infantil – a non-profit organization dedicated to the investigation of serious respiratory diseases in children – came into being in the former area of ​​Bar Rojo.

In 2020, the old disco became the focus of the fight against the pandemic. Fernando Polack, the Foundation’s director, and his team led two of the most important clinical trials of all time.

One showed the Pfizer vaccine was 95 percent effective. The other suggested that if given quickly, the blood plasma of patients who have already recovered could be useful in treating those who are still sick.

When Polack found the vaccine to be 95 percent effective, he couldn’t believe it. “At first the feeling was completely unreal. People experience a mirage with coronavirus vaccines. Respiratory vaccines generally work poorly. And when they work well, they are no more than 60 percent effective. Nobody at Pfizer dreamed of 95 percent, nobody. “

Dozens of people work in the laboratory.

Fernando Polack is an international specialist on another deadly virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, the leading cause of lung infections in babies. Around 120,000 children worldwide die from this virus every year, especially in winter.

The pediatrician was working with Pfizer on an experimental vaccine to treat this virus when the Covid-19 pandemic exploded. Vice President for Pfizer’s vaccines division, Alejandra Gurtman, is also from Argentina, and Polack suggested working together.

In a short period of time, the Children’s Foundation recruited more than 5,700 volunteers. They offered to get the injections at the Central Military Hospital in Buenos Aires – and on November 18, the 95 percent effectiveness results arrived after working in the Foundation’s laboratory.

After Covid-19, Polack wants to solve another deadly virus.

After the success of this study and as soon as the pandemic is controlled worldwide and the research work is no longer so urgent, Fernando Polack would like to turn back to the respiratory syncytial virus.

“We have known the respiratory syncytial virus for more than half a century and no one has yet come up with an effective vaccine. If everything were as simple as producing the new vaccines against the coronavirus, there would be no more diseases in the world, ”the specialist told El País.

The owner of the old disco called Iván still lives in the building – on the top floor of the Children’s Foundation. The Seu Rojo Bar is now a laboratory full of dozens of scientists, doctors and biologists. “Iván became our friend and often comes down to talk,” says Polack.