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‘Compassionate use’ approach to vaccine

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[FILES] A health worker prepares an injection of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine. Photo/ AFP


According to the two specialists in CRISPR and RNA (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (and) ribonucleic acid, respectively) quoted above, there is the need to believe that based on pressure on hospital facilities—though not in disorganized or unplanned African hospitals —what their colleagues in the research group had termed “compassionate use” of research work-in-progress, is what the world is witnessing with vaccines’ roll-out. It is hike Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes economics in contentions as the latter worries that failure to inject stimulus to get the economy working could result in “at the long run all humans would have died”

For experts in the developed world, the rigid process of vaccine trials must be tinkered with if the hospitals are to remain effective and efficient as their optimum capacity to care for patients is no more guaranteed. And, what is more, the savings in the National Health Insurance Scheme seems to be leading to bankruptcy level.

Here are issues that proactive and caring government are mindful of and are ready to tackle for the best interest of their people and their nation. Hence, they could ask their people to go on lockdown and provide what is necessary to care for them during lockdown, as against having most of them in the hospital, as the facilities could not withstand it.

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Such issues are not what Africans could be bothered with as there are neither such hospital facilities nor provisions for people in a lockdown situation.

However, as vaccines are made available, the thinking process of the African governments, Nigeria in particular as the most populous, ought to be directed to African travellers, and they should be made to pay at points of entry to save for the population that stays at home, and are possibly going to be infected by the travelling ones. 

As the NAFDAC director expatiated, the available vaccine brand for Nigeria, the AstraZeneca is about 68% effective and are taken in two doses and that it is viral vector mRNA preparation, capable of doing the same work as the Johnson and Johnson model that is taken only once; even when it is stated that the latter is over 95% effective.

For the one that is 95% effective and the one that is 68%, though both are said to be 100% effective in not allowing hospitalization, the experts say that mRNA type is like sending a drone to hit at a specific target in the DNA, causing a modification as directed by the RNA guide so as to make it impossible for the virus never to see what to latch — on and penetrate the host’s cell.

Whereas the other variant is planned to reside in the DNA as a watchman that could trigger alarm whenever the virus attempts to penetrate the DNA and raise soldiers, like antibody, to tight it off. In effect the latter is a déjà-vu in vaccine preparation. While the former is jamais- vu in vaccine preparation, hence an innovation. That innovation is what the CRISPR experts, mentioned, linked to either targeting for deletion or insertion in DNA letters so as to enhance or knock – off elements that make for the effectiveness of the spread of the virus in humans.

What African experts need to tell their populace is: what are the best options for them just as the USA intends to have AstraZeneca for people above 50 years while reverving Johnson and Johnson for the younger age group.

According to the same experts, over 3 billion letters for the human DNA had been at war with viruses for over million years; and such wars have enabled the viruses to evolve with either wicked or benign forms in their attack to human cells, to an extent that the deletion of certain DNA letters in the Africans, or that the untouched letters of DNA in Africans, had helped them to survive some attack of some evolving viruses.

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Hence the greater research efforts going on now, on how to use CRISPR -which is RNA guide to the DNA – to fight diseases
So, what has mRNA vaccine preparation got to do with African population?

It is evident that it has CRISPR approach to tackling viruses. Furthermore, it seemingly involves deleting or reworking the letters of human DNA. Hence, between encoding information in the DNA that could propel antigens to attack when danger is felt and deleting some, or attractive, letters of the DNA so as to kill the virus “as dead on arrival to the human tissue”, which one should be contemplated for the younger age Africans whose DNA is still active and can still encode more information and, as well do more fighting to save itself.

Like Doudna and Sternberg posit, these are issues of germ like diseases distinct from the one that involve transplant; hence, scientists would do well to involve more people in the discussion of how, intellectually and morally, humans could be guided in the modification -deleting or editing or inserting or knocking —off – the letters of human genomes.

In effect, one of the ethics of journalism is “when in doubt leave out” but that seems the reverse in vaccine production profession as it remains the last resort for the avoidance of mass hospitalization, and quite resonant of “if you wait for thorough clinical trials, at the long run humans would have gone extinct”. So, compassionate use of vaccine remains the last resort.
Ariole, Ph.D. Professor of French and Francophone Studies University of Lagos.

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