When the COVID-19 vaccine is finally found and approved...

When the COVID-19 vaccine is finally found and approved...

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

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As countries across the world continue to implement measures aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), we are encouraged by news coming out of the World Health Organization (WHO) that scientists in many states are working at a frenetic pace to develop a vaccine and treatment.

In fact, the specific term used by WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a news conference in Geneva on Monday was that research has “accelerated at incredible speed”.

According to Dr Ghebreyesus, more than 70 countries have joined WHO's trial to accelerate research on effective treatments and “about 20 institutions and companies are racing to develop a vaccine”.

Dr Ghebreyesus is reported as saying that the viral genome was mapped in early January and shared globally, thus enabling tests to be developed and vaccine research to start.

We are told that the WHO's executive director for emergencies programme, Dr Mike Ryan, revealed that one of the clinical trials now under way is looking at prophylaxis in health care workers to determine whether there's evidence that giving lower doses of drugs like hydroxychloroquine would reduce their risk of becoming infected while treating patients.

We are also aware of reports that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are being explored in clinical trials for their potential as treatment for COVID-19 or to ease symptoms.

Now, news has emerged from Australia that hydroxychloroquine will be given to COVID-19 patients in hospitals there, outside of clinical trials.

We note, though, that like clinicians elsewhere, the Association of Consultant Physicians of Jamaica has warned that there is no conclusive research to support the theory that hydroxychloroquine can treat COVID-19.

In fact, from all that we have read, it appears that studies on the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventative or treatment are mixed.

Last week, though, the WHO reported that early research showed that some drugs “may have an impact” on fighting the novel coronavirus, but the results are extremely preliminary and more research needs to be done.

According to Dr Ryan, some of those drugs may impact the length of disease, some may impact the severity of disease, and the dosages of those drugs, when they're given to what patient at what stage of the disease, has not been standardised.

But Dr Ryan was very clear in his pronouncement that as it now stands there is no proven effective therapeutic or drug against COVID-19.

The world, though, is in a race against time as it relates to finding a vaccine, and indeed treatment for this virus, as the global toll of more than 72,000 deaths and over 1.2 million confirmed cases in 211 countries is staggering.

Development of vaccines, we know, takes time, as researchers must ensure that they get it right or face the consequences of error that can prove debilitating or, worse, fatal. We have seen projections of a year at best for an effective vaccine. Whether that is so is left to be seen.
What we do hope, though, is that when an effective vaccine is found and approved it will be distributed with equity.

Dr Ghebreyesus has said that soon the WHO will be announcing an initiative for the accelerated development and equitable distribution of vaccines. That is a commendable position that we hope the organisation can honour. For, as he correctly stated, there should not be a divide between the haves and the have-nots.

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