Vaccines: our history, our legacy

MSD and its legacy companies have been working to discover and develop vaccines for more than a century

March 17, 2022

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"An epidemic of diphtheria is almost inevitable here. Stop. I am in urgent need of one million units of diphtheria antitoxin. Stop. Mail is only form of transportation. Stop."

Dr. Curtis Welch

This was the desperate radio telegram in January 1925 from Dr. Curtis Welch in Nome, Alaska, to all the major Alaska towns, to territorial Governor Scott Bone in Juneau, and to the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington, D.C. Diphtheria was spreading through the icebound community. Children had already died, and the local supply of diphtheria antitoxin had expired the previous summer.

674 Miles
5 Days
300,000 Units
vaccines history vials

More than a century of vaccines

In 1895, the H.K. Mulford Company began marketing the first commercially available diphtheria antitoxin produced in the U.S., the very medication that helped avert the diphtheria epidemic in Nome. Today, MSD has a significant presence in vaccine discovery, development and distribution in both human and animal health.

Dr. Maurice Hilleman

The vaccine pioneers

MSD’s Dr. Maurice Hilleman belongs to a distinguished group of vaccine pioneers — including Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. Dr. Hilleman is credited with helping to develop more than forty vaccines and his impact on public health is undeniable.

Protecting public health is a worldwide challenge

MSD is working with national health ministries and non-government agencies to help write new chapters in the public health success story through partnerships, demonstration projects, donation programs, and technology transfer agreements.

Our people

How Wilson, N.C., plays a critical role in our commitment to supply

Meet the North Carolina-based manufacturing team that’s producing and packaging our oral antiviral COVID-19 medicine

March 4, 2022

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From the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we had a responsibility to rise to the challenge of this unique moment. That’s why our teams mobilized like never before to ensure we were ready to address a global need.

In late 2020, our manufacturing teams began utilizing our global supply network — including sites in nine countries across three continents — to start production of our investigational oral antiviral COVID-19 medicine. This monumental effort made it possible for us to produce 10 million courses of therapy in 2021, with at least another 20 million on track for 2022.

A major part of that effort takes place in Wilson, North Carolina, where our colleagues are working tirelessly to carry out our mission and ensure supply during this crucial time.

“This is a perfect example of the company coming together as one team with a single goal,” said Francisco Toste, associate vice president, plant management at the Wilson site. “I am proud to work for our great company because of the impact that we make for patients around the world in helping them combat serious disease.”

Meet the team in Wilson behind this heroic effort:

Wilson, NC facility

Addressing health equity in the age of COVID-19

In this Teal Talks episode, health care influencers Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith and Dr. Aletha Maybank discuss how the pandemic has impacted health equity and disparities

March 4, 2022

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COVID-19 shined a bright light on issues related to health equity. The disproportionate effects of the virus were found early in the pandemic, with higher rates of cases and severe outcomes among minority ethnic groups.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in the U.K., Northern Ireland and the U.S., the risk for infection was twice as high for Black people and 1.5 times as high for Asian people than white people.

However, despite these somber figures, health disparities existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I often remind people that COVID-19 did not create any of the inequities that we’ve seen, but it did take advantage of them,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the director at Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine.

Nunez-Smith, as well as Dr. Aletha Maybank, chief health equity officer and senior vice president of the American Medical Association, recently joined MSD’s Dr. Mary-Ann Etiebet, assistant vice president for health equity, for Episode 4 of our Teal Talks series to discuss health equity: what it is, how we work towards it, and what it means to achieve it.

WATCH: Teal Talks Episode 4, Health equity and the opportunity to create change

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Transforming our systems and structures

Health inequities, described  by the World Health Organization as differences in health status or resources between populations, are created largely by social determinants of health — the social, economic and environmental conditions we all live our lives in. However, structural inequities — systems that organize power and resources unevenly across lines of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion and other forms of identity, are another major driver.

“There have been intentional policy decisions here in the United States, and dare I say around the world, that have systematically disadvantaged particular groups of people,” said Nunez-Smith. “We’re going to need intentionality around structures, around systems to really do that important redress.”

Health equity as a movement, not a moment

While the pandemic put a spotlight on health disparities, it’s critical to keep the attention and momentum going to make long-lasting change, said Maybank.

“We’re in a time of where the doors are open right now where we can talk about equity and we can talk about racism,” Maybank said. “But how do we set up the time right now to make sure that when that door does close — because oftentimes it will — what do we do and how do we move forward?”

The strategy to equity is one valuing all people equally, Maybank said, quoting Camara Jones, a renowned physician and civil-rights activist.  

“Understanding the historical context; how we got here as individuals, as institutions, and as a collective is really critical to understand how to move our equity strategy forward.”


Accelerating global access

Our company is collaborating with a range of partners to enable access for patients around the world

March 4, 2022

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At the outset of our research efforts for COVID-19, our company made clear its commitment to make any vaccine or medicine we develop for this pandemic broadly accessible.

Here’s how we have been working to fulfill that commitment:

Download the infographic


How we’re prioritizing supply

Learn how our teams mobilized like never before to ensure we were ready to address a global need

March 4, 2022

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From the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we knew we had a responsibility to mobilize and innovate to rise to the challenge of this unique moment.

This is what we’re doing:

scaling up supply infographic

Download the infographic


Why improving health literacy is important

Many people struggle to understand health information, which can impact health outcomes. What we're doing to help around the world

March 3, 2022

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Antibodies. Incidence. Variants. Who would have ever thought we’d use words like these in everyday life? The pandemic has highlighted how important it is to understand health information to help keep ourselves and our families, friends and communities healthy.

Improving health literacy — defined as a person’s ability to find, understand and use information and services to make health-related decisions for themselves and others — continues to be an important part of helping address the pandemic. 

But it also applies to health situations across the board, from disease prevention options, clinical trials and biomarker testing to cancer, HIV, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many others.

Why is health literacy important?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 9 out of 10 Americans have limited health literacy skills and struggle with understanding health-related information. In Europe, a similar picture: According to the 2010 European Health Literacy survey, at least 1 in 10 of those surveyed showed insufficient health literacy, and almost 1 in 2 had limited (insufficient or problematic) health literacy.

As the World Health Organization noted, this can affect their ability to manage their health, take medications appropriately and engage in shared health care decision-making. Limited health literacy is linked to worse overall health status, more emergency room visits, more hospitalizations and higher mortality rates.

impact of low health literacy

In Europe, which accounts for one tenth of the world’s population but a quarter of the world’s cancer cases, health literacy can play a significant role in helping tackle preventable cancers.

Recently, the European Commission established Beating Cancer Plan, focused on cancer prevention, treatment and care. One of its targets is for 80% of people to be aware of the European Code Against Cancer (ECAC), an initiative that aims to inform people about actions they can take for themselves or their families to reduce their risk of cancer.

Alexander Roediger, MSD

“Health literacy becomes even more important considering scientific developments in public health genomics, biomarker testing or complex cancer treatments. Tackling cancer is all about people empowered to take action to reduce the risk of cancer and to make decisions about their own lives when diagnosed with cancer,” said Alexander Roediger, executive director, policy/government relations, MSD.

While limited health literacy spans age, gender, education and income groups, there are certain populations at greater risk: older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, those with low income or less education, and people with compromised health status.

Improving health literacy to empower patient communities

That’s why our company is committed to making sure the information we share with the world is very clear.

It all started with the Picker Institute’s An international charity working across health and social care 2003 research project titled “The European Patient of the Future” addressing questions such as: How can public confidence in health systems be maintained in the future? This MSD-initiated project was followed in 2006 by the first Health Literacy Survey with the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

In 2011, Laurie Myers, director, ESG, Social Business Innovation, began our global health literacy efforts. This is long before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) updated the definition of health literacy in 2020 to acknowledge that organizations have a responsibility to equitably enable individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.

“As a company committed to helping save and improve lives, it’s our responsibility to communicate in a way that people can clearly comprehend so that they can make informed health decisions.”

Laurie Myers

Director, ESG, Social Business Innovation

Listening to the people who use or may use our medicines and vaccines guides our efforts.

“By thinking more broadly about the people who are treated with our medicines or get our vaccines and engaging with them, testing a range of health literacy levels, using plainer and inclusive language, improving design and layout, and reflecting diversity, among other tools, we’ve been able to improve our methods and deliver communications that are better understood by all audiences,” said Myers.

How we’re making medical information easier to understand

Some of the ways we’re improving health literacy in our own communications include:

  • Creating easy-to-read patient labels
  • Improving packaging and instructions for use
  • Developing easy-to-understand disease education materials
  • Improving health literacy in clinical trials
  • Sharing best practices externally

And our work isn’t done.

“We continue to learn by engaging with patients throughout their journeys,” said Myers. “We’ll continue to integrate health literacy principles into all areas of our product lifecycles in an effort to help improve health equity and outcomes.”

Examples of our work

Illustrations to help reduce patient error

By adding illustrations, reducing the amount of text and displaying in smaller pieces, these instructions making the steps easier to follow.

Easy to navigate website

Understanding the patient's perspective allowed us to create a website that anticipates their needs for easy navigation. Plainer language, effective visuals and simple layout make the website a useful tool.

Seeing from the patient perspective

In a diabetes awareness brochure, we presented the view from the patient's perspective so they can see the potential effects of eye damage from diabetes.

Health awareness

Innovation is key to combating antimicrobial resistance in Asia-Pacific

Investing in research and innovative solutions gives us the best chance to fight these ‘superbugs’

February 24, 2022

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When an antimicrobial used to treat infections caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites becomes ineffective, we may be facing antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR is thought to be responsible for around 700,000 deaths per year globally, including 230,000 deaths from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The Asia-Pacific region has seen a rapid increase in the prevalence of resistant pathogens. 

As an illustration of the magnitude of this crisis, China and India contribute almost one-third of the world’s incidence of rifampicin (an antibiotic that is used to treat tuberculosis)-resistant tuberculosis. Rapid urbanization and poor public health infrastructure, particularly in many low-to-middle-income countries, have accelerated the problem. Antibiotic prescriptions have also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the risk of pathogens becoming resistant to medications. This increased risk of AMR is compounded by the lack of awareness of appropriate antibiotic use and a poor understanding on the consequences of misusing antibiotics.

If AMR is left unaddressed, routine medical procedures, such as surgery, chemotherapy and caesarean sections could become challenging for patients at risk with secondary infections. Common infections such as urinary and respiratory tract infections could also be harder to treat.

Furthermore, AMR could impose a significant economic burden on the Asia-Pacific region. We could face an increase in AMR-related costs by 2050, potentially undoing our hard-fought economic gains in the region.

Understanding our fight

With millions of lives and our economy at stake, we need solutions to slow the emergence and spread of resistant pathogens. This is why we’re committed to supporting numerous projects, both globally and in the Asia-Pacific region, that promote good antimicrobial stewardship (AMS).

For example, MSD in Vietnam has partnered with the Ministry of Health and community hospitals to implement AMS programs with the goal of upskilling health care workers and introducing good stewardship practices. But AMR can’t be eliminated by AMS alone.

Aileen Dualan, Asia Pacific Medical Affairs Lead of MSD
Aileen Dualan

“We’re continuing our antibiotic R&D efforts, pursuing new solutions and pushing the boundaries of science to address AMR,” says Aileen Dualan, Asia Pacific Medical Affairs Lead of MSD. “While we continue to invest and make breakthroughs in this area, a problem as significant and complex as this cannot be addressed by the effort of any one organization alone.”

A continued pipeline for new medicines is critical. In the past 10 years, only two novel classes of antimicrobial drugs have been discovered. Medicines with novel modes of action are needed to outpace the rising rates of AMR.

At the same time, many companies are abandoning their antibiotic pipelines due to the lack of commercial returns. Yet addressing AMR is more critical than ever. As part of our global response to AMR, we’re investing $100 million over 10 years in the AMR Action Fund to support late-stage drug development. Our goal is to have novel antibiotics to offer patients by 2030.

“We’re also working with stakeholders from different sectors to bring the benefits of novel antibiotics to people globally, including low- to middle-income countries. At the same time, we’re ensuring that appropriate usage and stewardship practices are in place to preserve the effectiveness of these antibiotics against prioritized pathogens,” added Dualan.

Despite these initiatives, sustained effort from multiple stakeholders across different sectors is required, and novel solutions to attract new investments and partnerships to incentivize antibiotic R&D are urgently needed.

Bold and ambitious solutions to incentivize antibiotic R&D 

Three game-changing solutions were identified in a recent L.E.K special report, “Asia-Pacific in the Eye of AMR Storm,” to which MSD had the opportunity to contribute. “While the solutions raised were by no means exhaustive, we believe they are tangible, and potentially transformative for our region, having been tried and tested in other sectors,” said Fabio La Mola, Partner, Global Healthcare Co-Head, Asia-Pacific, L.E.K. Consulting.

bar graph with arrow going up/rising

Solution 1: AMR bonds

AMR bonds for diagnostics could seek investments in the capital markets to provide upfront capital to implement and fund multiple AMR initiatives across the Asia-Pacific region.

funding icon

Solution 2: Multilateral funding

Multilateral funding means attracting funding from outside pharmaceutical firms to accelerate the antibiotics development process. Funds could come from non-governmental organizations and the public sector as well as from industry. Multilateral AMR funding can help to minimize financial risks and incentivize antibiotic R&D.

hospital icon

Solution 3: Minimum revenue guarantee incentive model

This model entails a country government guaranteeing a minimum revenue to the antibiotic manufacturer or developer in return for availability and supply of antibiotics. So, not only does the company lock in a guaranteed income for their product, but the government also secures access to effective antibiotics to treat infections.

The road ahead for Asia-Pacific

AMR is a clear threat to our health, and MSD is proud to lead in the fight against it. To date, we have more than several ongoing clinical trials addressing bacterial infections, launched four antibiotics as new treatment options or with expanded indications around the world, funded more than 40 AMS programs across the globe and collected more than 10,000 isolates from 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region as part of the Study for Monitoring Antimicrobial Resistance Trends, one of the world’s largest AMR surveillance studies.

“While we have stepped up efforts in discovery, it will take more than that to slow AMR. A collective effort from both the public and private sectors is needed to address the crisis and enable a comprehensive and sustainable approach to safeguard our future."

Aileen Dualan

Timely investments to support innovations targeting AMR can have a long-lasting positive impact on our health and economy.  We need to be bold in our solutions and, in this regard, MSD will continue to advocate for ambitious next steps to sustain our battle against AMR in this region and beyond.


Company leaders highlight ESG priorities and performance

Our ESG Investor Event focused on our company’s long-term strategies related to access to health, employees, environmental sustainability, and ethics & values

February 23, 2022

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Our company has a 130-year legacy of operating responsibly. Our inaugural Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) Investor Event highlighted how we’re building on that legacy to drive sustainable value for our business and society. 

At the Feb. 23 virtual event for investors, analysts, media and members of the public, members of our senior management team described our company’s priorities and performance within our four ESG pillars: access to health, employees, environmental sustainability, and ethics & values.  

“Our drive to make a difference for humanity – through the responsible invention, manufacturing, and delivery of vaccines and medicines – has remained constant and central,” CEO and President Rob Davis said. “Our ESG efforts help to fuel the actions necessary for the success of our business and our stakeholders.” 

Here’s a look at some of those efforts: 


Access to health

“Addressing high unmet medical needs around the world is central to MSD’s purpose and our ability to sustain long-term growth. This includes not only our investments in developing new, innovative products but also ensuring our products reach those who need them. Expanding patient reach and access are at the core of our business and ESG strategy.”

– Eliav Barr, senior vice president, Global Medical Affairs 

Eliav Barr

Our efforts include:  

  • Planning for access during the product development process 
  • Expanding access to our medicines and vaccines through collaborations and patient assistance programs 
  • Advancing health equity for underrepresented populations and people in low- and middle-income countries  



“Seven decades of fostering a culture that embraces different perspectives and values has taught us that inclusion creates a competitive advantage for the organization. Additionally, by prioritizing our employees’ well-being it supports our ability to continually attract and retain highly qualified people, strengthen our competitiveness and mitigate employee turnover.” 

– Steve Mizell, executive vice president and chief human resources officer 

Steve Mizell

Our efforts include:  

  • Determining where we can remove barriers for underrepresented groups in our hiring process 
  • Working with diverse suppliers  
  • Offering tools and resources to support employees’ physical, emotional and mental health, financial well-being and safety 


Environmental sustainability

“Through our three [environmental sustainability] focus areas of improving efficiency in our operations, lowering the environmental impact of our products and packaging, and reducing environmental risks across our supply chain, we are further contributing to the sustainability of our business by reducing risks, lowering costs and presenting opportunities for innovation.”  

Sanat Chattopadhyay, executive vice president and president, MSD Manufacturing 

Sanat Chattopadhyay

Our efforts include:

  • Adopting a new set of climate goals, which include achieving carbon neutrality across our operations by 2025 
  • Creating an “energy road map” to help our facilities reduce energy demand and associated greenhouse gas emissions 
  • Engaging with suppliers to reduce impact on the environment


Ethics & values

“We maintain our reputation as a company worthy of trust by ensuring compliance with our Code of Conduct and Values and Standards, reducing risk in our supply chain, and promoting trust with our data protection and privacy program.” 

 – Jennifer Zachary, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary 

Jennifer Zachary

Our efforts include:  

  • Fostering a culture in which employees feel they can freely voice their concerns and report incidents that are potentially inconsistent with our Code of Conduct and policies 
  • Employing a third-party risk management team to establish, implement and monitor responsible and ethical sourcing practices 
  • Committing to maintain 100% compliance to regulatory requirements for active incident monitoring, risk/harm analysis and on-time notification of data breaches 
Our people

Discover which female role models inspired our own women in STEM

Why strong STEM opportunities for women are important during Women’s History Month and every month

February 16, 2022

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The gender gap that exists in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields has been prominent for years. Girls and women are often steered away from science and math throughout their education, limiting their opportunities to pursue a career in these fields as an adult. With only about 28% of women in the STEM workforce, and men greatly outnumbering women in STEM fields in college, many women are missing the opportunity to build a career in innovative and high-paying jobs like scientific research and engineering.

However, there are some women, including our colleagues at MSD, who were inspired at a young age by female mentors, such as their mothers, teachers and others, to pursue a career in their field of passion. They’d like to help change the STEM gender gap and hope their stories can inspire other girls and women to break into the field.

Meet some of our own women in STEM and read what they have to say about the women who inspired them early on in life:

Maria Radu, principal scientist, preclinical development/ pharmacokinetics

“A love for life sciences was instilled in me early on by my middle school biology professor, a woman whose face was glowing when describing how blood flows in veins and arteries, who often incorporated physics and chemistry concepts in her lectures, just so she can build a complete picture of the complexity of the human body workings. Passion breeds passion, and I fell in love with biology, chemistry and physics in 7th grade.”

Maria Radu
Arpa Garay

Arpa Garay, chief marketing officer, MSD Human Health

“Growing up, I was always intrigued by Marie Curie since she was a pioneer for women in STEM. She was not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, but also the first person to win two! For her to accomplish so much at a time when women were even more underrepresented in STEM was truly inspiring. Today, I have the privilege of working beside plenty of brilliant women across several STEM disciplines, from research & development to data science. I would encourage all young girls to let their inner curiosity thrive as they explore STEM — the world needs more women to drive innovation and represent the half of society that could be overlooked otherwise.”

Morgan Crawford, senior scientist, engineering

“I enjoyed learning about the scientific method in school, and my favorite classes were physics, chemistry and biology.  I participated in an outreach program through the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) in which I learned about various engineering disciplines. I chose to study chemical engineering in college because it combined both my passions and interests. My mother works in education at a preschool. I always enjoy hearing her stories about how her students would approach and experience their first science experiments. My mom’s strong work ethic and passion for her career inspired me to pursue my career in STEM.”

Morgan Crawford
Christine Fandozzi

Christine Fandozzi, AVP pharmacokinetics, preclinical development

“I chose a STEM career following a life-changing summer undergraduate research experience at a major cancer center where the research laboratories were connected to the hospital. Seeing patients and their families every day made the need for new and improved oncology treatments very real to me. I also found that I loved spending time in the lab and often missed breaks and lunch because I was so caught up in the experiments and research.  I loved the science. So, coupling something you love with a chance to make a meaningful difference in someone’s life felt like a great way to spend my career.”

Learn more about some of our other women in science.

woman scientist working in the lab

Are you interested in a career in STEM?

Our people

How this HIV activist prioritizes wellness in his day-to-day

Paris Mullen shares why it's so important to make self-care a daily habit

February 11, 2022

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The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, and isolation and the continued strain of remote work have put a spotlight on the importance of personal wellbeing. For Paris Mullen, a MSD community liaison and HIV activist, the pandemic is a reminder to be more intentional with self-care. And while he admits that prioritizing this can be difficult, he’s trying his best.

As a community liaison who is trained and certified to discuss MSD’s promoted virology products, Paris works with case managers and other allied health professionals who serve communities living with HIV to improve health care outcomes. To excel in this role, Paris must put his true, authentic self front and center. Paris’s mantra is to show up and be fearless about “who I am” – an African American, gay man living with HIV.

Being kind to yourself

The HIV community often feels disconnected and isolated – a feeling that has only worsened during the pandemic. Now, more than ever, it’s important for all of us to make an effort to take care of ourselves – “You’re worth it,” Paris says.

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“The principles of being gentle, kind and compassionate with myself are how I like to approach self-care. This is especially important given the realities of the pandemic and living with HIV.”

Paris Mullen

During a time when so much remains uncertain and his friends, colleagues, and others are adjusting to new realities, Paris focuses on small things he can do to feel better. “It’s important to get out of my apartment,” he says. “Getting out in nature and walking has been really helpful.”

Even for someone who regularly exercises, meditates, and keeps a good diet, Paris knows he’s not always perfect.

“If I eat too much or if I miss a day of exercise, I try to be firm but fair. I tell myself that I can work out tomorrow,” he says. “It’s not an opportunity to beat myself up, and I know I’m not alone when facing these challenges.”

Connecting with others

Paris knows the importance of staying connected, even virtually, and says, “while we may be tired of video chatting, it’s still a great way to lean on those close to us for encouragement, comfort, and love.”

Paris recognizes it’s not always easy to reach out for support.

“For me, it is also important to speak with my therapist regularly,” Paris notes. “I want people to know therapy is not taboo, but rather a tool that can help equip individuals with healthy coping mechanisms. Therapy can help people feel comfortable with themselves, and talking to a therapist can help address current concerns people may have related to COVID-19 and beyond.”

Continually reaffirming yourself

Coming from a conservative, church-going family, Paris first struggled with his self-worth at multiple points in his life: after surviving sexual abuse, and then, when he came out as gay, and years later, when he was diagnosed with HIV. “Everyone wants to be accepted as they are. My biggest question coming through these challenges was, ‘Who wants me now?’” he says.

While difficult, these experiences taught him the importance of regularly reciting positive self-affirmations – a mental health practice he has continued during the pandemic.

“Affirmations have been huge for me. I have a list of positive affirmations that are daily reminders to myself,” he says. “It has been very helpful for me to keep my spirits up.”

Ultimately, Paris says, channeling wellness is about liking and even loving yourself – now and long after the pandemic is over.

“Always remember, you are invaluable,” he says. “You are wanted.”

Listen to Paris discuss four key practices in his life