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Coronavirus diary – Part 17

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There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you’re going to be part of the problem—Eldrige Cleaver.

The stride and ravages of the COVID-19 are unrelenting. Global Infectivity of over 16 million is alarming with the United States topping the list of countries hard-hit.

With a growing complacency, the predictable African winter may come. God forbid. This is a human catastrophe, and humans should be humbled and perturbed while simultaneously primed for solutions to the global enemy. It is a time for reflection on the organic nature of our world. We are inexorably interdependent with a common destiny. It is time for a collective solution and not for the politicisation of a cure. In this instalment, I examine the race for a vaccine. I shall focus on the discursive ambience of the search for a vaccine.

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Much earlier in the year, the elixir was considered a vaccine. For those who understand the clinical processes that a vaccine requires, it is a tall order. Vaccine production requires a feasibility study, the characteristics of the pathogen, such as its strains and serotypes, the demography and the nature of the human immune system, cost, and licensure among others. The good thing about it is that it has inspired hope, the greatest asset for the living. Presently, the WHO lists about 25, vaccine candidates, on its website, and with a disclaimer that reads in part: “These landscape documents have been prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) for information purposes only concerning 2019-2020 global of the novel coronavirus. Inclusion of any particular product or entity in any of these landscape documents does not constitute, and shall not be deemed or construed as, any approval or endorsement by WHO of such product or entity (or any of its businesses or activities)”.

According to Pfizer “vaccines are designed to prevent disease. A vaccine stimulates your immune system to respond and produce antibodies – like it would be if you were exposed to the virus. After getting vaccinated, you develop immunity to that disease, without having to get the disease first.” Pfizer goes on to explain the difference between a vaccine and a treatment which is that “vaccines are designed to prevent disease, while treatments help to manage or cure a disease or condition”.

Vaccines are safe because they are produced painstakingly which is why it takes 10 to 15 years to produce according to expert valuation. This does not rule out human error. Historically, in the United States, the 1976 Swine Flu vaccine programme under President Gerald Ford resulted in the production of the wrong vaccine strain and sundry health complications. The race of the moment is to do so within a year. What is known about vaccines is “Any successful vaccine stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies against a specific foreign body so that after getting vaccinated, a person develops immunity to a specific infection”. Some can ensure lifelong immunity while others could last just a year. According to Stephanie A. Boone, Charles P. Gerba in their paper, “Significance of Fomites in the Spread of Respiratory and Enteric Viral Disease”, notes the global mortality from diarrheal and respiratory diseases put at 1.7 million and 1.5 million respectively.

They argue that while bacteria diseases can be managed by antibiotics but viral diseases estimated at 60 percent of human infections cannot be resolved by antibiotics. Boone and Gerba further stress that prevention and management of viral disease heavily rely upon vaccines and antiviral medications with 60 percent effectiveness. On a cautious note, they averred that “to date, there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs for most common enteric [intestinal] and respiratory viruses with the exception of influenza virus and hepatitis A virus (HAV). Consequently, viral disease spread is most effectively deterred by preclusion of viral infection”. Experientially, a virus usually runs its full cycle. That is the case with ‘catarrh’ in our clime. The common denominator is immunity, whether lifelong or short-lived. This should give confidence to the scientific community outside the western orbit that they are on course by the emphasis on the production of immune boosters.

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Nevertheless, Livescience prioritises six of the several vaccine candidates. First is Pfizer/BioNTech/Fosun belonging to Pharmaceutical Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech which is “developing a vaccine that uses messenger RNA to prompt the immune system to recognize the coronavirus”. Second is Sinopharm, the state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) with two vaccines in the making, both inactivated forms of SARS-CoV-2 developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products and the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and could be ready for public use by the end of 2020. The third is CanSino Biologics/Beijing Institute of Biotechnology.

CanSino Biologics, in collaboration with the Beijing Institute of Biotechnology, has developed a candidate vaccine using a weakened adenovirus. Fourth is Moderna/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that is developing an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine. Fifth is Sinovac Biotech with a candidate vaccine, called (PiCoVacc) and being developed by Beijing-based Sinovac Biotech. And the sixth is the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca. The Oxford vaccine is being developed by the British university in collaboration with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. 

Has Russia breasted the tape? Russian has announced the successful trial of its COVID-19 vaccine. According to the First Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Ruslan Khadzhismelovich Tsalikov, the outcome “without exception, all volunteers, having received immunity from the coronavirus, felt fine. Thus, the first domestic vaccine against the new coronavirus infection is ready”. This is not without a trail of Russophobia in the West. As always, Britain, the United States, and Canada are pointing fingers at Russia over the hacking of vaccine research. Sometimes, I wonder why no one blames Russian over its smart military hardware. For sure, the world needs a silver bullet for COVID-19, if it comes from Russia, it is good news. 

Akhaine is a professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

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