Will a vaccine save us from Covid-19? What about new treatments for its symptoms? The directions are, we may have to find a “Plan C”.
Billions of people are confined to their homes. They cannot go to the beach. Office. Or school. It is the most direct response possible to a viral pandemic.
It’s also the only sure answer we have. Science takes time. Medicine takes time. Both need something to work.
Although it is still early, Covid-19 may not give us much.
The World Health Organization says that only 2-3% of the world’s population has developed antibodies to resist the virus. And we don’t know how long these last.
In the meantime, we all hope that a vaccine will be signed, sealed and delivered next year. Even if that happens, what do we do in the meantime?
Many drugs and treatments have been proposed. Several, including hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial, have already fallen by the wayside. Others are just starting the clinical trials necessary to ensure that they do no more harm to the victim than the virus itself.
And then there is the Holy Grail: a vaccine.
Scientists around the world are rushing towards this goal. Many contenders are already in the running.
But vaccines are not easy. None have ever been changed in just 18 months. Most take years, if not decades, to be reliable enough to be made available to the public.
“We need to prepare for a world where we don’t have a vaccine,” said Ravi Gupta, professor at the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, at the Huffington Post. “Basing public policy on the hope of a vaccine is a desperate move. We should hope for a vaccine, but we should not expect to have one in the next year and a half. Anyone who says we can is a fool. “
So what is plan C?
It has been 40 years since the HIV-AIDS virus broke into global consciousness. There is still no vaccine. Although there are interventions that stifle its progress.
Don’t even mention the common cold. Why expect something different for Covid-19?
Despite the paranoia of anti-vaccination movements, great efforts are made to ensure that vaccines are as safe as possible. Once it has passed the simulation and laboratory phase, a vaccine is tested on animals whose biological mechanics are similar to that of humans. It can take months.
Then, small-scale trials are conducted on groups of volunteers, again to confirm its safety and effectiveness.
Once he passed this test, he went up to several hundred test subjects. The aim is to check whether the vaccine has a constant effect on large groups of the population.
It is only after this that phase three will come into effect, where its performance over several thousand people will be closely monitored and analyzed.
A hundred Covid-19 vaccines are already in development worldwide. At least five are in an early human testing phase. In Australia, CSIRO has started animal testing.
“All the new vaccines that are being developed are by far; only some end up succeeding, and the whole process requires experimentation, “Sir Patrick Vallance, researcher at Oxford, told the British media.
Although the three test phases can be accelerated somewhat, there are limits. For example, the lifespan of the vaccine effect needs to be determined.
If it’s less than a year old, it’s pretty much useless.
And the only way to understand this is to watch it take its course.
There are options other than vaccines. It’s just that vaccines are by far the best option.
And hopes for a natural “herd immunity” emerging among the survivors may fade.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reported that results from studies around the world indicated that low levels of natural antibodies were detected.
This means that governments – such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Italy – hoping to issue “immunity passports” allowing returnees to return to the community and work may be at risk. brutal shock. They may not be immune. At least not long. We are not sure.
“It is a reasonable assumption that this virus does not change much. If we are infected now and he comes back in February or March of this year, we think he will be protected, “said US medical adviser Covid-19 to the White House. Anthony Fauci.
WHO is not so sure.
“At this time, we have no evidence that the use of a serological test can show that an individual is immune or protected against reinfection,” said a WHO spokesperson.
In the absence of a vaccine, this leaves only medical intervention. This means effective treatments for those who are not fortunate enough to catch the wrong dose of Covid-19. We don’t have one yet.
Like AIDS, medical researchers hope that a possible and effective antiviral can be found. This would suppress the advance of Covid-19 through the body of a victim.
Other treatments may seek to limit the impact of a “cytokine storm” – when an immune system turns out of control in response to an infection. Here, the body gets injured instead of the virus. And the vital organs can start to shut down.
Only four months after the start of the pandemic, little progress has been made on this front.
About 20 promising investigational drugs are in clinical trials. And even moderately effective treatments would be a welcome relief for intensive care units struggling with their burden.
But even if their effectiveness is proven, production lines must be built, supplies secured and distribution networks set up.
Remdesivir is an experimental antiviral medication. It is being tested in Europe, the United States and China. Although the first results are promising, it will still take three months before enough data is collected for a reliable performance indicator.
The highly prized hydroxychloroquine anti-malaria drug is about to be discarded. The first tests were largely negative, with weak or negative results in patients. But tests are underway around the world.
Actemra is designed to fight immune responses to the cytokine storm in cancer patients. It is also being tested in Europe, the United States and China for its potential impact on Covid-19.
It is hoped that the blood plasma from patients recovered from Covid-19 will introduce new antibodies to fight the virus in patients. It has been used for more than a century and usually has few side effects. The indications are so far positive, but it is unlikely to get enough to deal with a full-blown pandemic.
Until medical science can meet one or both of the above criteria, we may need to use many more vague tools.
“The curve of the Covid-19 epidemic has been flattened in many countries around the world, and it was not the new antivirals or a vaccine that did it,” write professors at Bond University, Tammy Hoffmann and Paul Glasziou.
“We are saved by non-drug interventions such as quarantine, social isolation, hand washing and – for health professionals – masks and other protective equipment. “
Viruses cannot replicate unless they find new hosts. Basic measures of social / physical distancing and hyper-awareness of hygiene may therefore need to be maintained for some time.
Lifestyles may have to change.
World Health Organization spokesperson Takeshi Kasai summed it up by saying at an international press conference that the world needs to change its lifestyle.
No parties. No sports crowds. No crowded cafes or bars.
“At least until a vaccine, or a very effective treatment, is found, this process will have to become our new standard,” he said.
But Bond University professor says these measures themselves need to be better understood.
They must become more than just a blunt instrument.
“The world has bet most of its research funding on finding a vaccine and effective drugs. This effort is vital, but it must be accompanied by research on how to target and improve non-drug interventions which are the only things that have worked so far. , ” they write.
What is the correct safety distance? 1 m, 2 m or 4 m?
Does soap work as well as a sanitizer? What kind of mask works?
How long does the virus remain contagious when on a surface or packaging?
“These are just some of the things we don’t know about non-drug interventions … We need the answers now. “
The teachers say the problem is that we don’t know which practical measures are effective or not. And the research that exists is either incomplete or of poor quality.
“If an effective vaccine or drug does not materialize, we will need a (plan) that uses only non-drug interventions. This is why we need high quality research to find out which ones work and how to do them most effectively. . ”
Jamie Seidel is a freelance writer.