Researchers Race for Corona Vaccine but Question Effectiveness
The latest COVID-19 information and statistics for the Middle East and North Africa
The race is on for a coronavirus vaccine, with more than 130 in development globally, including 10 in clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization.
Out of those 10, there are two leading candidates entering Phase 3 trials in the next month. One from US-based biotech company Moderna and the other a collaboration between the University of Oxford and UK-based biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
“From January when the virus was identified, to going into Phase 3, that’s unprecedented. That has never been done before,” Dr. Anna Durbin, professor of medicine and public health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Media Line. “But because of the urgency and the need for a vaccine, that’s why we are proceeding at risk.”
Accelerating the development process doesn’t impact safety. The risk refers to the cost of testing tens of thousands of people for an efficacy study and manufacturing millions and eventually billions of doses before knowing if the vaccine will even work in preventing the coronavirus, Durbin explained.
On Thursday, for example, AstraZeneca announced a $750 million deal with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to manufacture and distribute 300 million doses of the Oxford vaccine candidate by the end of 2020. AstraZeneca also inked a deal with the Serum Institute of India for one billion doses, with a goal of 400 million by the year’s end.
In normal times, according to Durbin, companies wouldn’t have the financial resources or incentives to accelerate the vaccine development process given the chance that the final product might not even work, but public health officials recognize the extraordinary situation that COVID-19 has presented to the world.
“Even though we are taking a risk that these vaccines won’t work, if we wait three years to go through the entire evaluation process to see if the vaccine induces immunity and which vaccine induces the best immunity, that will take years and probably hundreds of thousands, millions of lives could be lost if we follow the traditional pathway,” Durbin said.
According to Friday’s update from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, globally there were 6,639,228 infections with 391,261 deaths and 2,872,815 recoveries in 188 countries and territories.
But is rushing a vaccine to market about protecting public health? Not everyone agrees.
“If a vaccine is to be approved, my guess is that it will be approved because there is a rush to get a vaccine. Not to necessarily satisfy the medical problem, but to satisfy political and economic concerns,” Dr. William Haseltine, chair and president of ACCESS Health International, told The Media Line “And that means a vaccine is likely to be partially effective and possibly dangerous because it won’t be thoroughly tested. It cannot be in that amount of time.”
Until there is a completely effective vaccine for COVID-19, Haseltine said that countries in East Asia and other regions have already demonstrated that public health measures such as mass testing can protect the entire population.
Haseltine emphasized that he is a supporter of vaccines as the most effective tools for health that we have, but that realistically by the end of the year there is more of a chance of prophylactic antibodies and drugs being used to prevent infections in high-risk populations.
In the best-case scenario, according to Durbin, Phase 3 clinical trials would demonstrate by mid-to-late fall that a vaccine effectively prevented coronavirus by producing neutralizing antibodies.
However, it would still take a couple of years, in Durbin’s estimation, to manufacture enough doses for the entire population.
“Even if we have an efficacious vaccine by the end of the year, which I do think is possible, we’re going to have to make some decisions about how we prioritize who gets vaccinated and make sure that it’s equitable throughout the world,” Durbin said.
Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 7 am GMT on Friday.
|Country||Confirmed cases||Deaths||Recovered||Active Cases|
|United Arab Emirates||37,018||273||19,572||17,173|