The World Health Organisation (WHO), one of the key UN agencies involved in the fight against the deadly coronavirus pandemic, has once again, this past week, expressed that it is extremely concerned about the surge in COVID-19 cases, and urged all countries not to become complacent, as the risk could be very costly.
Over the past few days, it was observed that there is a surge in cases, especially in Europe and North America. The WHO and other development partners have expended tremendous time and resources to contain the spread of the virus since it was discovered early this year. However, the threat is still evident, and it is important that all countries, including Guyana, continue to take proactive steps in containing the spread of the virus.
Although welcoming the latest news on COVID-19 vaccines, WHO said it is awaiting further data on these potential treatments. WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan called the development “quite encouraging”, while also expressing caution. Biotech company Moderna announced on Monday that its experimental vaccine has shown a nearly 95 per cent efficacy rate, according to interim results. This follows a recent similar announcement by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech that they have developed a vaccine which has about 90 per cent efficacy rate.
The Moderna vaccine is among nine candidates in the COVAX Facility: a global initiative for equitable vaccine access led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and WHO. More than 170 countries have joined the Facility, including some 92 low- and middle-income nations.
The Pfizer vaccine has been tested on tens of thousands of people across six countries, with no safety concerns having been raised, and the companies plan to take it to regulators for final approval, with the hope of it being in widespread use before the end of the year. It uses a completely experimental approach – which involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code in order to train the immune system.
Previous trials have shown the vaccine trains the body to make both antibodies – and another part of the immune system, called T-cells, to fight the coronavirus. Pfizer believes the companies would be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year, and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.
Similarly, Moderna is also hoping to have the doses ready within a matter of months.
However, there are questions about how long immunity lasts, and the companies have not presented a breakdown of the vaccine’s effectiveness in different age groups. It should be noted though, that the data presented is not the final analysis.
In Pfizer’s case, it is based on the first 94 volunteers to develop COVID, the precise effectiveness of the vaccine may change when the full results are analysed. It is expected that the companies would have enough safety data by the third week of November to take their vaccine to regulators.
Of note, too, is that even after the vaccine is approved, there is also the question of access, especially for developing countries. In Guyana’s case, the Government has already started taking steps to prepare for the procurement and storage of the vaccine. The Minister of Health has said that Guyana would first access 3% of a COVID-19 vaccine, followed by 20% at a later date, through the COVAX facility.
Several independent experts have called on countries to support the COVAX initiative for global equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. The experts have outlined that, under international human rights law, access to any COVID-19 vaccine and treatment must be made available to all who need them, within and across countries, especially those in vulnerable situations or living in poverty.
A vaccine – alongside better treatments – is seen as the best way of getting out of the restrictions that have been imposed on all our lives. However, it is only when the vaccines are given the final approval and ready to be administered to people that countries would be able to return to some form of normalcy. Hence, the need for health authorities to continue impressing upon persons the need to maintain the necessary health protocols. There is no room for complacency.