The race for an apolitical vaccine

The frantic search in laboratories around the world for a vaccine anti-covid19 is as much a political than scientific event. The president of the United States talks and acts as the vaccine were the “miracle cure”, not for humanity, but for his re-election. The suspicion is that he may ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize the distribution of the winning vaccine before the completion of Phase III of the research. In other words, the vaccine could become available before completing the experimental cycle that encompasses testing 30,000 people, in order to verify the safety and efficacy of the product. Only a very large number of people
can attest whether the vaccine is safe or instead can produce collateral effects and of what kind. What worries many scientists is the directive issued by the FDA to health authorities to prepare for distribution of the vaccine by the end of October.
The search for a vaccine anti-cov19 is unprecedented for several reasons. First of all, the sheer number of laboratories and research institutions involved. Quite a few pharmaceutical industries are already producing a vaccine, independently from its possible outcome. Second, the amount of financial resources devoted to the search of a vaccine is staggering. Third, the search itself has been politicized , starting with the United States whose president has heightened it as a “warp speed” endeavor.
And then there is Russia, whose president Putin has announced the production of a vaccine named “sputnik”, a throw back to a great technological achievement of Communist Russia. The vaccine is not destined to export. At the very least, it cannot be exported without the authorization of EMA, the European Medicines Agency. The scientists who are working on the vaccine are hopeful and elated at the same
time because they are testing an incredible number of possible solutions and by doing that they are learning extraordinary aspects of the evolution of infectious diseases. There was a time when infectious diseases were the principal cause of death but antibiotics resolved a large part of such diseases. However, at present the infectious diseases have made a comeback owing to globalization that allows individuals and goods to travel in huge numbers around the world.
The rapid spreading of the covid19 infection is proof of the renewal of the
infectious diseases. The world needs new drugs to combat the scourge of viruses and bacterial infections. Not only that, because it is imperative that governments around the world act with common efforts aimed at increasing prevention of infectious diseases on a large scale of public health. It is regrettable that in a critical period president Trump has withdrawn American support from the World Health Organization for disheartening political considerations.
More than 90 vaccines are being developed against the so called SARS-COV2 by using different technologies, some of which have not been used in licensed vaccine before. There are at least eight types being tried against the covid19, all of them relying on different viruses or viral parts. Clinical trials start with small safety studies followed by larger trials to determine whether a vaccine generates an immune response. The bottom line is that the production of a vaccine must be guaranteed not to produce adverse effects. The danger is that one or more researchers may try to commercialize its product before general science is totally satisfied about its safety. This is in turn a decision that may be influenced
by politics, in the context of the race to be the first to produce a vaccine and cash from it. And then there is an ethical question: whether to infect directly a number of volunteers who have been vaccinated, a method known as “human challenge” that would be strictly regulated by the WHO. There is no dearth of volunteers in the world; an Internet site has gathered the signatures of 30,000 volunteers.
Unfortunately, there are legions of people who rail against vaccinations and will oppose the anti-covid19 vaccine, no matter what. A failure or mishap of any vaccine would unleash an uprising of the anti-vaccine forces in the world. There are also many people in positions of influence who have expressed distrust in the potential vaccine. The vice presidential
candidate Kamala Harris has already said that she would not take president Trump’s word alone on any potential covid19 vaccine. She fears political interference by the president over the approval of a vaccine in order to boost his chances of re-election. Her concerns are partly justified by Trump’s touting the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine despite no evidence that it was effective against the virus. The same story played out
when the president announced emergency authorization for convalescence plasma, a therapy that was discounted by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert, for lack of larger randomized trials.
‘Finally, Harris’ objections are shared by several leading nations in Europe. The Italian minister of public health and his counterparts in Germany, France and the Netherlands have launched a vaccine alliance and signed a contract with Astrazeneca for the supply of up to 400 million doses of vaccine “for all European population”. The leading vaccine
candidate originated in the University of Oxford with an Italian subcontractor and is now at an advanced stage of texting. There was no mention in Europe of any collaboration with the pharmaceutical firms contracted by Trump. It appears that in Europe the vaccine
will be distributed for free starting with the groups most at risk. In the meanwhile, the focus is on a worldwide challenge to produce the vaccine, without a political deadline but with great expectations.

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