In this column published on Feb. 1, 2020 entitled, “Disease X factory,” we made mention of the Netflix “Explained” series episode titled “The Next Pandemic” that described how the coronavirus could spread from the wet markets in China referred to as disease X factory. Bill Gates was interviewed and he warned that it would takes years to find a cure should a new form of virus emerge. I wrote that scientists are working at breakneck speed to develop a silver bullet to stop the outbreak.
Since the outbreak, there have been 25,884,895 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with number of deaths reaching a staggering 859,130 as of Sept. 3. This has become personal to a number of us, with friends and acquaintances succumbing to the virus.
There can be no end to this pandemic until the vaccine is discovered, distributed and injected to those who are in need. Hopefully it will come sooner than later. In the US, there is mention of an “October surprise,” as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has scheduled the distribution of a vaccine by Nov. 1. Some experts are questioning how this is possible and warn that the US government may be cutting corners to get the vaccine out, not because to save lives, but out of political considerations as the US presidential election draws nearer.
The World Health Organization has provided a draft landscape of Covid-19 candidate vaccines as of Sept. 3, listing 34 in clinical evaluation. It makes a disclaimer that the landscape documents have been prepared for information purposes only and that inclusion does not constitute any approval or endorsement by WHO of such product or entity. The eight developers now in their final phase are University of Oxford/AstraZeneca; CanSino Biological Inc./Beijing Institute of Biotechnology; Gamaleya Research Institute/Sinovac; Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm; Beijing Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm; Moderna/NIAID; and BioNTech/Fosun Pharma/Pfizer. Phase 3 means the testing of drug to assess efficacy, effectiveness and safety to 300–3,000 people with a specific disease. Not one has reached Phase 4, which is the post-marketing surveillance in public.
On Aug. 24, it was reported that 172 economies are now engaged in discussions to potentially participate in Covax, a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved. Also, a collaboration between Serum Institute of India (SII), Gavi (The Vaccine Alliance) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation early in August will ensure up to 100 million doses of AstraZeneca or Novavax’s candidate vaccines, if successful, these will be available to low- and middle-income economies through the Covax Facility at just US$3 per dose.
If Bill Gates wants to prove himself wrong in predicting that it will take years to develop a cure against the virus, then there is hope. For now, let us not be complacent that the curve has flattened.