In Nigeria, official numbers show that 149,000 people have been confirmed infected, and almost 1,800 have died. Some of the dead passed on in distant, sterile hospital rooms, separated from their loved ones, by an illness humanity has never experienced before. This disease has taken lives, crashed businesses, and collapsed economies. How do you fight a disease that has brought the world to its knees?
On December 30, 2019, when Dr. Li Wenliang (an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital) posted a warning about the outbreak of infectious disease on a doctors’ group chat, he had no idea that he had just sounded the alarm for what would come to be known as COVID-19. Sadly, the disease would eventually take his own life a month later.
The Spanish Flu was the last pandemic that shook the world with similar devastating consequences. It left the world with 50 million people dead, with about 199,000 of the deaths occurring in Nigeria. About 100 years later, we are counting our losses in millions again. But we dare to hope that our story will be different.
How do we hope to beat COVID-19?
The world has battled with finding the right treatment regimen for COVID-19. While we have achieved limited success in that area, we have been more successful on another front —Vaccines. Over 67 vaccines have been developed and tested and out of this lot, we got a breakthrough when Pfizer-BioNTech announced in November 2020 that their vaccine was over 90% effective in preventing symptomatic coronavirus disease.
However, there have been mixed reactions — some people are worried about the speed of vaccine production while others have been worried about side effects. These fears are not unfounded because in the past it took an average of ten years to make a vaccine.
So, what changed?
- Increased Efficiency
Dr. Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute of Global Health, said the speed of vaccine development was due to increased efficiency in the process rather than compromise or skipped steps. Some of the process improvements, according to Dr. Omer, include running Phase 1 trials (animals) and Phase 2 (humans) at the same time, and also setting up vaccine manufacturing plants before vaccines were finalized.
There are 5 stages in the production of a vaccine;
- Discovery Research (2 – 5 years)
- Preclinical (2 years)
- Clinical Development
Phase 1 trials for Safety (1 – 2 years)
Phase 2 trials for Immune Response (2 – 3 years)
Phase 3 trials for Effectiveness against disease (2 – 4 years)
- Regulatory Review & Approval (1 – 2 years)
- Manufacture & Delivery
This process typically costs about $500 million and running the trials in parallel significantly reduced the time this normally takes.
- Pre-existing Data
The scientific community has the advantage of 50 years of research on coronaviruses. Scientists have been studying coronaviruses for over 50 years, with the common cold, SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome all belonging to the coronavirus family. Hence while COVID-19 is a new virus, its general characteristics were not entirely new to the scientific community.
- Global Collaboration & Technological Advancements
Progress in technology like mRNA vaccines and genomic sequencing played a huge role in the speed of the COVID-19 vaccine development. It took the scientific community only ten days to sequence the virus’s genome, and this information was available globally, aiding COVID-19 diagnostic tests, and boosting the vaccine development process.
- Adequate Financing
Lastly, the global financial support for the vaccine development process enabled the speedy development of this solution. Several countries and international organizations have committed huge amounts of money to the development, production, and delivery of the various vaccine candidates. For instance, the United States, through ‘Operation Warp Speed’, a private-public partnership, has spent about $12.4 billion in procuring millions of doses of successful vaccine candidates, as well as supporting the development of others.
Which vaccines are currently in use?
Here are some of the leading vaccines:
Who has gotten the vaccine so far?
134.6 million vaccines have been administered globally. 118.2 million of this number were administered in the US, China, European Union, United Kingdom, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Brazil and Russia alone. While some African countries like Morocco, Egypt, and Algeria have administered 504,486 vaccines, with no recorded immunization taking place in sub-Saharan Africa except in South Africa.
The WHO, through COVAX is ensuring that there is equity in the vaccine distribution process. This push is responsible for the 16.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that Nigeria has been able to get. While the vaccines are yet to arrive, the Federal Government of Nigeria already has a plan for the vaccine rollout.
How will the vaccines be given?
The Federal government plans to vaccinate 70% of the population between now and 2022. 40% will be vaccinated this year, while 30% will receive the vaccine next year. The first in line to be vaccinated are health workers, older people, and those with serious health conditions.
Now, you know that the COVID-19 vaccines were made in compliance with existing standards, and the world should celebrate the technological marvel that enabled us to make so much progress this fast.
When the vaccine is available, will you take it?
Reply with a comment, let’s talk.
By Dr. Okonkwor Oyor C.