While more than 200 countries continue to grapple with the coronavirus disease running riot in every direction, killing nearly a million and infecting millions more, some have filled test tubes in a head-to-head dash to produce vaccines against it.
Experts agree that it normally takes 15 to 20 years to develop a vaccine, but they have seen the disturbing insistence of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed, as of this paragraph 670,000 plus worldwide and infected nearly 17,200,000 in 213 countries.
In the Philippines alone, where the lockdown was imposed by the government and health authorities in mid March, infections have tallied, as of this writing – and the numbers are rising at home and abroad – nearly 85,500 infections, with 56,528 active, and nearly 2,000 deaths.
It is heartening to note that in the recent COVID-19 Conversations webinar overseas, panelists agreed that a coronavirus vaccine could be ready for emergency use by 2021, stressing that health care workers and people with high-exposure jobs would likely be given priority before the vaccine is made available to the general population.
We quote Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, for precision: “Some of the steps of vaccine development will need to happen in parallel… For example, some companies may start manufacturing doses of the vaccines before the trials have finished. This means we’re taking significant financial risks. But we do not want to take safety and efficacy risks.”
The Philippines itself, through the Department of Science and Technology, is looking earnestly at joining clinical trials, seen by this Southeast Asian archipelago of 110 million people, as the “best short-term strategy” that will allow the country to go full throttle on access to the vaccines once tested to be effective.
Scientists round the world in their respective laboratories have done intensive research and trials in an unparalleled effort, with at the minimum 145 vaccines being developed to hurry up a process that would under normal circumstances take up to 20 years before an effective vaccine is developed.
This week, Russia, fourth behind the United States, Brazil and India in coronavirus caseload, announced plans to begin production of what it called two “promising” coronavirus vaccines in September and October in the rabid race to develop a formula while other Western nations are themselves in hyperactive trials in their respective labs.
Russia has 828,990 infections (13,673 deaths); India 1.5 million infections (3,000 plus deaths); Brazil 2.5 million infections (90,188 deaths); and the United States 4.5 million infections (153,840 deaths).
At a meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova singled out two vaccines under development by a research institute in Moscow and a lab in Siberia, with the latter saying the two vaccines are “the most promising.”
Production of the first, being tested by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute and the defense ministry, is set for September, Golikova said. The other vaccine, being developed by the Vektor State laboratory near the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, has an October launch target.
We feel for scientists in the West who have raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners after coming under pressure from the authorities to deliver.
But we hold Putin’s words it is important to achieve a finished product in a “careful and balanced way… One should be absolutely certain in a vaccine.”
Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund which is financing the Gamaleya trials, said the country hoped to be the first to approve a vaccine, telling the USS broadcaster CNN: “It’s a Sputnik moment” – a reference to the launch in 1957 of the world’s first space satellite by Russia.
The success of any vaccine against COVID-19, developed by any country. will define the synergetic efforts of the world against this deadliest challenge to humanity in the 21st century.