A timely caution from the WHO

A timely caution from the WHO

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

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Word from the World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday that there may never be a silver bullet for COVID-19 comes as a timely caution to people across the world who are flouting protocols designed to reduce spread of the virus.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director general, issued the warning yesterday as he urged governments and the general public to focus on known basic steps to suppress the pandemic, such as testing, contact tracing, maintaining physical distance, and wearing a mask.

Dr Tedros said, while the world was hoping for “a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection”, we all must bear in mind that, at the moment, there is no catholicon “and there might never be”.

While we accept Dr Tedros' caution, and indeed encourage all to observe the stated protocols, we refuse to even think that a vaccine or other effective medical treatment for the virus may never be developed. We have faith in the ability of scientists to properly research and develop treatment for COVID-19.

We don't expect that it will happen overnight. These things take time, great effort, and funding; and researchers must ensure that they get it right or face the consequences of error that can prove debilitating or, worse, fatal.

As it now stands, there are many scientists across the world engaged in research to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Readers will recall that just last month a British biotech firm offered preliminary results showing than an aerosol-based treatment could drastically reduce the number of new coronavirus patients dying from the disease or requiring intensive care.

An Agence France Press report told us that in a randomised trial of 100 patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, those who received an inhaled formula of the protein interferon beta were at 79 per cent lower risk of developing severe disease compared to those who received a placebo. They were also more than twice as likely to make a full recovery compared with the control group.

Of note is the fact that the results, at the time, had not yet been peer-reviewed. We look forward to that critical analysis.

However, that is just one of the many efforts being made by scientists to combat this virus which has killed just over 690,000 people and infected at least 18.1 million since it emerged in Wuhan, China, last December.

We note that with dozens of vaccines now being researched, a few rich countries have already ordered hundreds of millions of doses, even before the vaccines are proven to work.

The WHO will no doubt have a huge task to ensure that when an effective vaccine is found and approved it will be distributed with equity.

Earlier this year Dr Tedros had promised an initiative for the accelerated development and equitable distribution of vaccines. The international community should hold him to that vow.

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