THIS PAST week saw British scientists lauded for a successful phase 1 vaccine trial. A working vaccine may be available by the end of 2020. Unfortunately deploying a global immunisation programme may prove to be harder than producing the vaccine.
Although the United Nations is pushing all countries to join ‘an effort to make vaccines and drugs to fight Covid-19 cheap enough that the poorest populations in the world can be treated’, the sheer scale of such an endeavour looks daunting.
South Africa with a population of 58.8 million would require production of at least 160 000 doses per day for over a year to cover the entire country. Dispensing the vaccine would require 6712 jabs per hour to complete in 12 months, a Promethean task, more likely to occur over 5 to 10 years.
In other words, while the good news is that the world has a working vaccine, one of several vaccines capable of producing the right antibodies and killer T cells required to defend against the virus, the logistical problems of immunisation, make the pandemic likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future.
Technological innovation such as robotic application and drone delivery, novel production techniques and other medical advances, could bring this horizon closer — the day when everyone has immunity and countermeasures such as masks, social distancing and other measures are no longer required.
Bare in mind that as more people recover and gain natural immunity, the target population for an immunisation programme is lowered, thereby reducing the immediate task at hand. Although there is some debate as to whether or not, such immunity is short term and may fall off over time.
By that stage, those who would have died from the virus, will in most likely be dead. The risks of cluster outbreaks and casualty ward spikes will have diminished, and the burden on our health system will normalise along with the impact on the economy.
In effect, the virus and its grip on society, will have weakened, at least for now, but the risk of future flare-ups and other coronovirus clades remain.
Targeted immunisation programmes focusing on vulnerable groups and maximising scarce resources could also assist us in meeting our goal. But for now, we stuck with the ‘no longer novel’ coronovirus of 2019, which looks set to become as prevalent as the common cold, and a seasonal disease just like the flu.