15th December 2020.
The good news is that the Covid-19 vaccines are rolling out in Cornwall. The first care workers were vaccinated at Royal Cornwall Hospital last Wednesday and the GP led community hubs will soon be vaccinating another 1000 people per day on top of the 400 at Treliske. You will receive an invite if you are eligible.
My brother is a scientist in the U.S. and he has pointed out to me that the production of vaccines in record speed is one of the few hopeful things to come out of this pandemic.
Scientists in China decoded and shared the genetic sequence of the new virus in January. This allowed a massive public/private global collaboration to get to work on vaccines. Governments pre-ordered and pre-paid which allowed scientists to use new technologies where they could take tiny pieces of genetic material and slot them into a delivery package. Government agencies helped to roll out and enable mass testing programmes and the frontloaded funding meant that scientists could work on mass production techniques while trials were still ongoing. When you look back to how drugs were developed to deal with other pandemics, Covid leaves everything else standing.
President Reagan wouldn’t even utter the word AIDS until 1985 when 12,000 Americans had already died. It took until the mid-90s to get anti-retrovirals and then until 2003 for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to start getting the lifesaving medication around the world. Now it’s saved millions of lives, but 700,000 people died in the U.S. beforehand. This year, the U.S. government pumped billions into Covid vaccine production. The difference in the way the two diseases were treated is awful. However, it has now been proven that it can be done and could be done again in the future, or for some of those diseases like TB and malaria which are still with us. We must learn from this and change the way research is funded so that we pick the priorities, rather than letting the market dictate that only the drugs that make the highest profits get developed.
The concern is that now the vaccines are ready to go, the poorer countries will be left behind. The makers of the Oxford vaccine have pledged to sell it at cost price of $3 for lower and middle income countries. Strings should be attached to government research funding so that the drugs that result from taxpayers’ money are accessible and affordable. There is financial and logistical help available from the COVAX programme and the World Bank but it won’t be enough, and practical problems like lack of refrigeration, poor health in developing countries and displaced and refugee communities will make it very difficult to effectively vaccinate all the world’s populations.
It will take a long time for the world to become a Covid safe place, which is why we must stay on our guard. We are in Tier 1, but infection rates are rising all over the country and we are not out of the woods yet. The relaxation of the rules over Christmas will doubtless cause a third wave in January and it seems so ironic to get this far, with a vaccine in sight, and then pass the virus around our families at Christmas.
Therefore, I wish you a very happy, but also a safe Christmas.