Covid-19: Africa and frantic race against time for suitable vaccine

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Nigeria and other African countries cannot afford to lockdown their economies indefinitely. Therefore the citizens should take personal responsibility for their safety and learn to live with the virus-like they have been doing with malaria and a host of other diseases and viruses ravaging the continent until the drugs and vaccines are discovered.

By Goddy Ikeh

AS Nigeria and many African countries are exiting in phases their lockdown and other restrictive measures put in place to check the spread of coronavirus, the West and some Asian nations are engaged in the race for the discovery of the vaccine for Covid-19.

Although no African country has the financial capacity to fund any serious research for Covid-19 vaccine, they cannot afford the “copy and paste” approach they adopted when they experienced their incident cases after the outbreak of the virus. For instance, Nigeria announced the lockdown of Lagos, Ogun State and Abuja in the first instance and later closed the nation’s air and land borders before the lockdown was extended to the states. Among the devastating cost of the lockdown on the Nigerian economy, is the looming recession, which may hit the country before the third quarter of this year.

But there is every reason to be hopeful that the fight against coronavirus may be won globally sooner than expected as the American business magnate and philanthropist, Bill Gates, has against the earlier forecasts of two to three years for a vaccine to be produced for the virus, when on Thursday, April 30, he said that it could take as long as two years or at least nine months before a vaccine can be found to tackle the deadly coronavirus pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives across the globe.

Gates disclosed that as of April 9, 115 different COVID-19 potential vaccines were being developed globally and that although scientists across the globe are in a frantic race against time to get a suitable vaccine to halt the death toll created by COVID-19, safety and efficacy are the two most important considerations.

Premium Times quoted the co-founder of Microsoft Corporation as saying in his regular publication, The GatesNotes, The Insider Edition, that some of the global processes needed to fast-track the process of getting a competent vaccine to save billions of lives across the globe.

“Anthony Fauci has said he thinks it’ll take around 18 months to develop a coronavirus vaccine. I agree with him, though it could be as little as 9 months or as long as two years,” Gates said.

Fauci is the director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the United States and is regarded as America’s most trusted voice in the fight against the ravaging pandemic.

“Although eighteen months might sound like a long time, this would be the fastest scientists have created a new vaccine,” Gates said. “Development usually takes around five years. Once you pick a disease to target, you have to create the vaccine and test it on animals. Then you begin testing for safety and efficacy in humans.

“Safety and efficacy are the two most important goals for every vaccine. Safety is exactly what it sounds like: is the vaccine safe to give to people? Some minor side effects (like a mild fever or injection site pain) can be acceptable, but you don’t want to inoculate people with something that makes them sick.

“Efficacy measures how well the vaccine protects you from getting sick. Although you’d ideally want a vaccine to have 100 per cent efficacy, many don’t. For example, this year’s flu vaccine is around 45 per cent effective,” Mr Gates added.

“One of the questions I get asked the most these days is when the world will be able to go back to the way things were in December before the coronavirus pandemic. My answer is always the same: when we have an almost perfect drug to treat COVID-19, or when almost every person on the planet has been vaccinated against coronavirus.

“The former is unlikely to happen anytime soon. We’d need a miracle treatment that was at least 95 per cent effective to stop the outbreak. Most of the drug candidates right now are nowhere near that powerful. They could save a lot of lives, but they aren’t enough…”

According to the reports, Gates wrote about the 115 different COVID-19 potential vaccines being developed and that he thinks that eight to 10 of those look particularly promising.

“Our foundation is going to keep an eye on all the others to see if we missed any that have some positive characteristics, though,” he said.

Apart from this disclosures, the billionaire philanthropist has plans to ensure that poorer regions won’t be left behind in the rush for Covid-19 vaccines by investing in factories all over the world to produce billions of doses.

Gates is focusing on the most promising vaccine candidates, committing funds to help ensure production capacity is ready even before any have proven to work. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is also helping purchase potential shots for low-income countries with $100 million for an effort led by nonprofit Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Boris JohnsonHe stressed the significance of ramping up manufacturing as health officials and world leaders, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had met virtually in an international vaccine summit, which centred on broadening access to potential Covid-19 vaccines to halt the pandemic and restart seized-up economies.

“There’s a plan to have multiple factories in Asia, multiple factories in the Americas, multiple factories in Europe, and if we can make over 1 to 2 billion doses a year, then the allocation problem is not super-acute,” Gates said on a call with reporters. “If you are only able to make, say, 100 million doses a year then you have an almost impossible problem,” he said.

However, some scientists believe that one of the biggest problems for Covid-19 vaccination may be the small but potent movement opposing vaccines. “Already, some groups are whipping up conspiracy theories about purported harms of a vaccine that hasn’t even been developed yet. But if such resistance builds, it could undermine the effort to roll out a vaccine, allowing the virus to infect more people,” they said.

According to them, the Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented in many ways, so whatever scenario emerges will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. That said, there are some historical cases that can illustrate what could happen with a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The most ideal outcome would be a vaccine akin to that for smallpox, rendering robust and near-lifelong immunity to the virus. With the smallpox vaccine, smallpox has become only one of two viruses to have been eradicated in the wild. “It’s obvious that we’re all aiming for a vaccine that is more like the smallpox vaccine,” they said.

But Covid-19 vaccine conspiracy theories has been pegged to Gates. In his response, Gates said: “It’s almost hard to deny this stuff because it’s so stupid or strange that even to repeat it gives it credibility.”

According to Business Insider, Gates stated this on phone call announcing The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $1.6 billion pledge to global vaccine alliance Gavi on Thursday, June 4..

The report noted that since the start of the global pandemic, Gates has been the subject of conspiracies falsely linking him to the coronavirus’ origins in some way or another. In fact a Yahoo News/YouGov survey in May found that 28% of U.S. adults believed a debunked conspiracy theory suggesting Gates planned to use an eventual Covid-19 vaccine to implant monitoring microchips in billions of people.

“In a way, it’s so bizarre you almost want to see it as something humorous, but it’s really not a humorous thing,” Gates said, according to Business Insider.

“I’ve never been involved in any microchip type thing,” Gates said. “It is good to know which kids have had a measles vaccine and which have not, so there are data systems and… health records that people use to track that… but there’s no chips or anything like that.”

Gates called the survey “a little bit concerning,” according to Wired, and added that widespread conspiracies could ultimately be dangerous if they discourage large groups of people from getting vaccinated against the disease. (Health officials have expressed concerns that misinformation could contribute to low adoption rates for a Covid-19 vaccine, once it is developed, which could make it more difficult to achieve herd immunity.)

“If you don’t get a broad uptake [of the vaccine], then it wouldn’t have the dramatic effect you want to have [where] the risk of reintroduction is so low that you can go back to having things like big sports events,” Gates said Thursday, according to BGR. “The misinformation could hold us back at some point, but I wouldn’t say that that’s hurting us at this stage.”

Mark Suzman
Mark Suzman

In April, Mark Suzman, chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, responded to reports on conspiracy theories circulating about Gates, saying it is “distressing that there are people spreading misinformation when we should all be looking for ways to collaborate and save lives.”

Gates has been particularly outspoken with regard to the global pandemic and the varied responses by world leaders. For instance, in March, Gates criticized the U.S. government’s response to the pandemic, claiming that “we did not act fast enough to have an ability to avoid the shutdown.”

Gates also called President Donald Trump’s decision to defund the World Health Organization, WHO, “as dangerous as it sounds” and the billionaire added on Thursday that he’s hopeful the president will rethink his recent threats to withdraw the U.S. from WHO altogether.

Since vaccine is not the only option for the management of the virus, Nigeria and other African countries should intensify their search for drugs for Covid-19, while maintaining basic hygiene of handwashing, social distancing, use of face masks in public places among others. For Prof. Charles Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Africa needs a package for creating sustainable prosperity in a world of continuous techno-economic-health disruptions. Such disruptions will become the new normal in the decades ahead, and we should better get used to that. Only societies that anticipate and plan for such disruptions will opportunistically exploit them, while others mourn and blame the shocks. The way we work, socialize, meet etc will not be the same after these crises. Welcome to the decade of rapid creative destruction!

According to him, as a first step, African countries should urgently dismantle the border closures as well as the stay at home/lockdown orders.

Prof. Charles Soludo
Prof. Charles Soludo

Opening Africa does not mean abdication of responsibility by the governments. Governments should lead in the mobilization, education, and possibly equipment of the people to take personal responsibility for their safety; mainstream the African spirit of community/collective action by mobilizing the churches, mosques and civil society organizations to lead in the public education and mobilization; and finally for the government to do its utmost best in providing public healthcare.

“An enduring lesson of this pandemic is that African countries must take public healthcare seriously. There will be future health pandemics and we should better get ready today. Professionals, religious leaders, CSOs and community leaders should be mobilized to agree on simple, smart solutions consistent with our financial and social realities. Our western and local (herbal) medical experts and research institutions should all be mobilized to come up with solutions.

Andry Rajoelina
Andry Rajoelina

“Those with pre-existing conditions might receive special treatment. The president of Madagascar is reported to have announced that his country has found its own cure for Covid-19 and has ordered schools also to reopen. The west is still on a trial-and-error mode, and why shouldn’t we experiment as well? Africa fought and survived Ebola without lockdowns and we can do even better this time.

“Our model should be learning-by-doing while mainstreaming basic common-sense tips such as: mandatory wearing of masks in public, basic hygiene, disinfection of all open markets every early morning and all places of public gatherings, practical social distancing tips, provision of hand washing facilities in public places, production and use of hand sanitizers, gloves, etc,” he said.
He added that for the countries that see the shocks as signalling structural shifts (which it largely is), the focus should be on exploiting the opportunities offered by the crises to press the re-set button. “It requires a realistic diagnosis and admission that the existing business model has been rendered obsolete. Crafting a new business model that encompasses the whole range of institutional, technological, structural, macroeconomic, and even politico-governance arrangements takes time and demands for disruptive thinking. It would require mainstreaming creative non-debt-creating financing options and new forms of economic partnerships. But these require longer-term perspectives and a form of inter-generational planning.

“There lies the conflict versus the opportunity and points to what separates politicians from statesmen. Politicians think of the next election, while statesmen think of the next generation. We pray for Africa’s political statesmen (a seeming contradictory combination—be a politician and statesman at the same time). That is why I strongly support the re-opening of all of Africa urgently and let all hands get to work to help them succeed,” he said.

As Nigeria and other African countries move towards opening up their economies, the citizens should take personal responsibility for their safety and learn to live with the virus like they have been doing with malaria and a host of other diseases and viruses ravaging the continent until the drugs and vaccines are discovered.

– June 7, 2020 @ 17:50 GMT |

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