The distant and head spinning headlines of a pandemic from a new strain of coronavirus in the spring has now transitioned into a fatigued and reluctant mainstream acceptance. Even for the extraordinary few global localities untouched with low or even no infections, the daunting and unnerving task of keeping status quo is still incredibly disconcerting. Now, almost a full year into this public health calamity, the world is still wheeling and struggling with Covid 19 not yet contained but in fact heading towards the infamous second and third surges. This is a seismic event that has far reaching impact on each and everyone of us.
In this unforgiving era of Covid 19 words that matter; aerosol transmission, hospitalization, PPE, ventilators, human tolls, masks, hands sanitizing, social distancing, six meters apart, diagnostic testing, flattening the curve, asymptomatic, long haulers, therapeutic treatments, comorbidity, immunocompromised, on-line connectivity, economic stimulus, digital economy, Covid 19 fatigue, lockdown cycles, social, economic and developmental displacements, subsequent surges and vaccine are all associated with this pandemic. Post Covid future although difficult to fathom right now are words that especially matter.
Vaccines and immunization are not unfamiliar to the global community as a public health measure that save lives every year. In fact, it is one of the most incredible advances in modern medicine today. Two to three million lives are saved with vaccines annually against twenty known life threatening diseases and the reason for up to a 65% decline in child mortality since 1990. It is a global health success story. Vaccines decrease the threat of diseases by operating with your body’s natural defence mechanisms to accumulate protectIon. When a vaccine is administered, the body’s immune system responds. Now, we have to once again turn to science and research to help us with this worldwide health crisis of a generation.
This microscopic health intervention essentially works by injecting a small dose of the weaken or dead virus that causes the disease into our system. It is a way of inoculation with an intentional measured exposure to the virus in order for our body to develop antibodies and eventually some level of immunity to fight the disease but without actually causing an infection. Scientists are interested in a vaccine that can help inhibit the process in which this virus’s spike protein clasp itself and gain entry to the host cell and subsequently takes control of the cell’s normal function and force duplication of the virus.
An unprecedented global effort has been underway for the past many months in search of the Covid 19 vaccine. This process requires on-going analyses, tests, accelerated clinical trials, mass production and large scale distribution upon vaccine approval. However, every phase is expected to be met with challenges and the race against time is on. Global infections are fast approaching fifty million and counting with between one to two million deaths and thousands more added every day. Currently, more than two hundred vaccines are in various developmental stages by Government Agencies, Pharmaceutical and Biotech firms, Nonprofit and Research Organizations and International Health Institution. The World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking more than seventy of these potential candidates and dozens are now in the clinical trial phase.
The average time to develop a vaccine can take up to ten years in normal circumstances. Ushering a vaccine from conception to public injection requires meeting robust safety and efficacy standards. It is rigorously tested through multiple stages before reaching the human clinical trial phase. However, given the urgency of the current outbreak, governments may allow experimental vaccines (when one develops) to be available to high risks patients before widespread approval. The vaccine must be equally accessible to all nations rich or poor because we cannot beat this virus anywhere unless we can beat it everywhere. In excess of ten billion doses are expected to meet global requirements. This will not be accomplished without a myriad of distribution, funding and storage challenges.
This past June, over thirteen thousand participants were surveyed across nineteen countries regarding Covid 19 vaccine acceptance, 71.5% reported they will likely accept the vaccine, 61.4% will accept if recommended by employers. The survey’s outcome range from 90% in China to 55% in Russia. Concerns about vaccine hesitancy is growing worldwide. In fact, in 2019, the WHO has classified it as one of the top ten threats to global health. In many countries, misinformation and vaccine hesitancy represent major obstacles in attaining population immunity. Unprecedented pace of Covid 19 vaccine development also contributes to intensified anxieties and potential compromised public acceptance. However, trusted sources, full disclosures, vaccine education, transparency and guidance can all go a long way to disease control.
We are still learning about Covid 19 and the disease it causes SAR-CoV-2 on a daily basis, including the range of infection outcomes within the same demographics. This can vary from no symptoms (asymptomatic) to mild, moderate, severe, near death to fatality. For those who survive, what are the long term effects on these ‘long haulers’ and impact to their psychological well-being and their post Covid 19 immune system going forward? Why does immunity from infection appears to be fleeing? What happens if vaccine refusal is meaningful in a population? What if a viable vaccine is not developed? Some of the social and economic impairments as a result of Covid 19 may already be permanent, what are the potential lasting impact to mental health?
While we are still in search of many answers from this pandemic in real time, we can and should exercise critical public health measures to protect ourselves and others. The disparities in global approach, politics, readiness, future preparedness, social and economic reaction and so on are offering us an opportunity to learn to be better global citizens. The virus is borderless, without a social conscience or political agenda hence highly discriminate to those who asserts old norms to this new microscopic adversary. This is a challenge of epic proportions and requires all of us to work together to resolve!
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