Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of Research and Development for the Janssen Pharmaceuticals wing of Johnson & Johnson, received the India Community Center’s annual Inspire award for his work in developing the single shot J&J Covid-19 vaccine, at the organization’s annual banquet Oct. 2.

“J&J, BioNTech, and Moderna had never created vaccines before. But everyone saw the public health crisis that was happening — as 10,000 people died each day — and wanted to help,” said Mammen, who was interviewed at the gala by Divya Ganesan, a Stanford University freshman, and co-founder of Real Talk Ed.

“To think of making a vaccine in such a short time was unthinkable. This would typically be a seven-year process,” said Mammen, noting that 600 people at J&J mobilized on a 24-hour/seven days a week schedule to develop a vaccine. “We broke all our normal processes,” said the Indian American. “We had invested in good science that we put into play.”

“The journey was unlike anything we had ever seen. For 14 months, no one ever took a day off. I don’t think the world recognizes what it took to make this vaccine,” said Mammen.

On Oct. 5, Johnson and Johnson announced that it has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve its vaccine for third shots/boosters. The FDA's Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 14 and 15 to consider requests from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to add booster doses for their Covid-19 vaccines, reported CNN.

ICC’s 18th annual gala was held virtually for the second time, in keeping with Covid-19 safety protocols, which discourage gatherings of large groups indoors. A friendly-but-competitive live auction, followed by a lively pledge drive, quickly raised more than $257,000 to support the community center, a second home to many Indian American seniors and youth.

As the pandemic began in March of 2020, ICC shuttered its doors and furloughed its staff, in keeping with the state of California’s stay-at-home mandates. The organization lost much of its revenue, and incurred a $1.2 million deficit. Two Paycheck Protection Programs — loans for $384,000, and $355,000 that were subsequently forgiven — have allowed ICC to remain viable and reopen its doors.

ICC has expanded to four locations, including its headquarters in Milpitas, California; a second location in Cupertino; a Tri-Valley location in Dublin; and a mid-Peninsula center to serve Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, Menlo Park and Atherton.

The pandemic has allowed the organization to bring its programs to Indian Americans across the U.S., Raj Desai, executive director of ICC, told India-West. “People were bored at home. The Zoom platform allowed us to engage with new communities,” he said.

The organization’s staple programs, including Bollywood dance, karaoke night, fitness programs, and yoga for seniors were reformatted to be held via Zoom.

As doors reopen, ICC’s signature senior programs, one of the most well-attended initiatives of the organization, are currently being held virtually at the mid-Peninsula and Tri-Valley locations, and in-person at the Milpitas and Cupertino centers.

The table tennis center in Milpitas, led by coach Rajul Sheth, sent four of its students to the Tokyo Olympics this year.

ICC was founded 18 years ago, with the aim of uniting the growing Indian American community in the San Francisco Bay Area’s Silicon Valley. “We started the organization with kids who came to our programs. Now, they are in their 20s and 30s; we want to create programs that are relevant to their lives now, which allow them to celebrate and retain their Indian culture,” said Desai. “The little ones are still here: people see the relevance for their kids, but how do we engage the parents?”

ICC Board president Talat Hasan said in a speech at the gala: “Our focus has always been on our children and our seniors, and it will continue to be; for it is they who guide our actions and who represent our values.”

The live auction featured a Costa Rica vacation: Rao Pokkala placed the winning bid of $4,000. Financial advisor Deepak Ganju won an 8-day, 7 night stay in an elegant villa in Croatia, with his winning bid of $5,195.

Ananthalakshmi Anbuselvan was alone in bidding for a stay in a private home in Languedoc, in the south of France, and got it for his opening bid of $6,995. Several ICC supporters made pledges during the donation round, which started at $25,000.

The evening was rounded out with a performance by New-York based singer songwriter Neel Nadkarni, who delivered a blend of Bollywood and R&B.

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