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Biomedical Research

The Race for the Covid-19 Vaccine

There has been a lot of controversy regarding the COVID-19 vaccine development and many challenges still lie ahead despite the fast-paced rollout of various candidates. In this article I explore the way in which this extreme development has occurred due to the pressure and competitive atmosphere we are presently in, as we face a rat race with each nation striving for their own success. This individualised approach is failing to truly achieve the global effort we need in stamping out this pandemic.

By Asmita Anand

Published 7:40 PM EST, Mon April 19, 2021

Introduction

Ten authorised vaccines. Fifty-eight vaccine candidates still in development. All with the same aim. But just one is needed to stamp out this terrible pandemic.

Around April last year, while most of the world seemed to be shocked with horror by the effects of the pandemic, the race for the Covid-19 vaccine began as scientists hoped to provide immunity to this terrible disease and pulled out their magic card: vaccines.

The Vaccine War

A vaccine has the aim of reducing the severity of disease, making it one of the only magic cards we can currently pull out in an attempt to reduce the increasing mortality rate caused by SARS Covid-19. With the pandemic greatly impacting economies around the world, the vaccine is their ticket out of economic damage, making it the new golden ticket to success.

At the moment there are numerous proprietary vaccine candidates each competing, or have competed, for marketing authorization. The hunt for the vaccine has sparked the interest of both researchers and universities, with some even trialling new technologies that haven’t yet been licensed in a vaccine before. On the surface it seems that this geopolitical competition has pushed scientific discovery to a new level as we find ourselves at the crux of this situation with a huge variety of platforms being used, whether it be vector based, inactivated virus based or mRNA vaccines. Such diversity is welcome in academic research and competition has led to everyone coming up with their own ideas and providing many alternatives giving us a hand of cards from the joker to the king to even an ace, useful for potential variants of the virus.

Therefore, our best shot at tackling the pandemic seems to be the winner of this ‘rat race’. Sigh, this cannot be the best approach.

If we continue in this way, the ‘winner’ will be determined from the amount of financial or industrial help a candidate may have compared to its effectiveness. Furthermore, we’re also likely to use the one which achieves regulatory approval rather than its safety and suitability to public health. Trial protocols are being set up to produce success instead of the aim to prove it protects against the disease and death in hospitalisation.

For example, the FDA is willing to fast-track the roll-out of vaccines while both China and Russia have approved vaccines without waiting for the results of Phase 3 trials. [1] This rushed process could have serious risks and it exemplifies how scientific integrity is being undermined by hyper- competition. Even worse, Russia, Iran and China have even been accused of pandemic brinkmanship and allegedly hacked vaccine research. [2] Everyone wants to make this breakthrough and everyone wants to deal their own magic card.

It seems clear that while the element of competition is providing a fierce environment, it is taking a negative toll on research output. Both commercial and political pressure is pushing for immediate vaccination-roll out. As each country creates their own version, it will be more difficult to make each one available worldwide regardless of their efficacy as they struggle to even vaccinate their own nation.

Most scientists have even anticipated that, like most other vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines will not be 100% effective. [3] This concern only further perpetuates the public’s hesitancy on getting a shot which has been developed over months rather than years with unreliable evidence of success.

So, what should we do instead?

Let us paint an utopian version of this situation. Imagine if we had one global team who had full access to every combination of tools they could need. Imagine if each company feed-backed their findings to help each other out. Imagine if we truly tried using a global effort to solve this global solution. Instead, we’ve constrained ourselves with no freedom to collaborate. For the interest of the public and stopping the disease, vaccines need to be a united effort and not for the reputation or privilege of a particular company or nation.

Generation of collective intelligence will be more efficient and effective to provide robust solutions, especially when trying to find a mechanism to fit in such a strict framework. Even the World Health Organisation has proposed a collaborative efficacy trial, with one of their core functions detailing the coordination of international efforts through global collaboration and cooperation. [4] This builds on the idea of learning from other developers’ mistakes in order to increase productivity and efficiency in manufacturing one of the only current magic tricks we have up our sleeve.

Conclusion

So please, let us end this ‘rat’ race for the benefit of humanity. To conclude, we have already dealt ourselves with the best variety of cards, but we need to now play our hand right in order to successfully stamp out this disease once and for all.

Asmita Anand, Youth Medical Journal 2021

References

[1] O’Brien, Sarah. “FDA Willing to Fast Track Coronavirus Vaccine before Phase Three Trials End.” CNBC, CNBC, 31 Aug. 2020, http://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/30/fda-willing-to-fast- track-coronavirus-vaccine-before-phase-three-trials.html.

[2] Light, Felix. Pandemic Brinkmanship: the Geopolitics behind the Race for a Vaccine, 6 Aug. 2020, http://www.newstatesman.com/world/north-america/2020/08/pandemic- brinkmanship-geopolitics-behind-race-vaccine.

[3] “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19): Vaccines.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/coronavirus-disease-(covid-19)- vaccines.

[4] “Accelerating a Safe and Effective COVID-19 Vaccine.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus- 2019/global-research-on-novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov/accelerating-a-safe-and- effective-covid-19-vaccine. 

By Asmita Anand

Asmita Anand is a student at Guildford High School. Aspiring to study medicine at University, she shares a wide interest in the field of scientific research and its integration with other fields of study. She is always eager to learn and enjoys researching breakthroughs in science and current problems that are associated with the medical industry.

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