The escalation in Covid-19 cases worldwide has not shown any signs of abating. As at 11 Oct, the report number of Covid-19 cases worldwide was 37.1 million with case fatality ratio (CFR) of 2.88%. The spread rate per subsequent 1m cases currently hovers between 3-4 days, more rapid than the initial 2 weeks when the pandemic first broke out. Highest active cases thus far would be from the US, with 7.7m cases to date and a death rate of 4.2%. Despite a moderate decline in Covid-19 cases in July, the US, as well as several other European countries were soon hit by a second wave case surge in the early September.
In the early hours of 2 October, US President Donald Trump announced via a tweet that he had tested positive for Covid-19. This breaking news not only aroused another series of controversy regarding the president’s responses to the pandemic, but also posed additional uncertainty onto today’s social and financial climate. Global economic contractions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic have far exceeded those of the Great Financial Crisis back in 2008. It has severally disrupted a wide range of sectors in the economy, as well as many of the world’s largest economies. As from the WTO’s message regarding the resurgence of coronavirus infections, global trade volume is likely to fall more sharply than its earlier estimate and may not return to the pre-crisis level even after the expected rebound in 2021.
Under the extraordinary level of disruptions and uncertainty, consumer and investor sentiment has been closely tied with progresses on vaccine developments. Up until now, 44 vaccines are being tested in clinical trials, along with at least 91 other preclinical vaccines under active non-human testing. That being said, although companies have started their work on vaccine since January 2020, followed by more intensive progresses in April, there is yet to be any vaccines making it to the full use approval. For instance, the pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, despite recent progresses, was forced to halt their vaccine trials due to unexplained side effects in their voluntary study. While optimists are expecting a vaccine discovery by year end, the general consensus seems to be much more conservative. Indeed, looking back in history, the fastest vaccine to be developed and approved was for mumps, which took approximately 4 years.
Although President Trump claims Regeneron antibody treatment has “cured”, however it is yet to be FDA approved. The unalignment of President Trump’s words and FDA drives the question, how does the public know if the treatment works?
A general development stage of any vaccine follows this process. Firstly, understanding the virus, where Chinese scientist have already the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus and Australia being the first country to recreate the virus outside of China. Secondly, developing vaccine candidates from inactivated or weakened virus. Thirdly, preclinical testing through animals to develop an understanding on how humans may react while simultaneously making adaptations along the way. Fourthly, clinical trials on humans where it is the most rigorous part to help rule out defects. Testing in groups from tens to hundreds and to thousands, before seeking the fifth step to seek regulatory approvals and gaining licenses. Lastly, the production process, policy development to prioritise who gets vaccinated first and price negotiation between many parties.
Now for this process to successfully reach the public, a large amount of funds and support is needed from investors and the government. The department of health has announced $66 million for coronavirus-related research, extending the original $30 million that was already pledged. Specific institutions include the University of Queensland who will receive a further $2 million for their “molecular clamp” which will speed up the vaccines developmental process, shortening it from years to months. The government has also provided almost $3 million for a Phase 1/1b clinical test to test the safety and effectiveness of a novel DNA-based COVID-19 vaccine from The University of Sydney. A side from government support, many institutions may propose their research to investors or charities to help propagate their vaccines to the next stages. Outside of Australia, The Jenner institute at Oxford University developed a vaccine candidate with promising results that have now reached their third phase of clinical trials taking place in a global programme. Although many vaccines candidates around the world has had some promising results from their clinical trials, there is yet to be one with regulatory approvals.
In summary, the government has invested a total of more than $2 billion in COVID-19 research and development. A large proportion of this is the $1.7 billion to secure early access to over 84.8 million COVID-19 vaccines doses, more than triple the number of doses per Australian.
As the phenotypic curve of pneumonia in Covid-19 rises in many areas, the restrictions on travel and social gatherings are tightened, and people’s hopes are mainly pinned on the early release of a successful and cost-effective large-scale virus vaccine.
Nevertheless, the expected track of recovery would depend largely on the current ‘vaccine frontier progress’. Economists at Deutsche Bank predicted that by mid-2021, vaccine availability will” accelerate the pace of going out of recession in the second half of the year and ensure the global economic growth of around 5.5% “
China’s Cassino and Kexing Biological Products Co., Ltd. are building manufacturing plants to produce 100-200 million doses of vaccines, while the Indian Serum Research Institute and AstraZeneca have reached an agreement that if the third-stage trial is successful, it will produce one billion doses of vaccines, of which 400 million doses are planned to be produced by the end of 2020.
After determining the current leader, the team reported that Cassino’s vaccine was the first candidate vaccine to reach the first and second stages, while the candidate vaccines of Kexing Bio, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca, Mardner, Cassino, Biotechnology/Pfizer and Murdoch Children’s Institute all reached the third stage in July/early August.
All in all, the unprecedented and menacing spread of COVID-19 has also in turn, mimicked past pandemics on an international scale ranging from the bubonic plague in the 1300s to the most recent SARS or COVID-19. For this reason, it can be clearly articulated that humanity has been exposed to various viruses in the course of history but at the same time, developed numerous, effective vaccines in defence.
An example of a prominent disease that arose in the past is influenza otherwise known as the common ‘flu’. This virus has been a significant one that is not to be understated in history and first emerged around 2400 years ago. Despite previous endorsements in vaccine developments, a vaccine to combat a radically new influenza strain is still estimated to take 4-6 months to produce and distribute to the general public. In contribution, it may be even longer if we are to ensure that people in developing countries also gain access to it.
As a result, vaccine development can be deemed a lengthy process possessing an average time span of “7-36 months” for the matured development of a functional and dependable vaccine to be made available for distribution. Similarly, according to estimation with a substantial amount of uncertainty, the typical costs of developing a vaccine can range from “$521 million USD to $5 billion USD”. Therefore, the manufacturing process of vaccines is typically a global effort, which seeks to incorporates collaboration from both public and private sectors, also evident in the case of COVID-19.
Upon speculation, we have many reasons to believe that the widespread distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine could still be many months away or just around the corner. From the beginning of this pandemic until the most recent advancements in the vaccine for COVID-19, it will soon mark our 1-year journey of battling this virus. As of now, more than 170 teams of researchers around the world are still working endlessly to develop a cure, and it is still unknown of when one or more of the 11 vaccines currently in Phase 3 will be approved. Prior to then, we need to take this opportunity to actively reflect and contemplate on the relevant steps in order to embark on a swift path to economic and social recovery for our humanity.
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