NO SILVER BULLET

Vaccine news positive but expectations must be managed

Kenya must manage its expectations on the outcome clinical trials and vaccines.

In Summary

• Kenyans must not lower their guard in abiding by the guidelines put in place by MoH. 

• While efforts towards an eventual cure should be lauded and optimism attached to the endeavour, caution and the management of expectations must follow.

A scientist conducts research on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus at the laboratories of RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics in San Diego, California, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo
A scientist conducts research on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus at the laboratories of RNA medicines company Arcturus Therapeutics in San Diego, California, U.S., March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan/File Photo

Our Covid-19 situation continues to evolve and remains fluid as new infections pick up at a steady pace.

Unfortunately, fatalities have continued to grow albeit at a slower pace compared to other jurisdictions.

A high number of recoveries have also provided some timely respite in the fight against the global health emergency.

At present, the number of infections is headed for over the 30,000 mark while our fatalities are seen lifting at a slower pace towards the 500 mark.

In spite of the grim, Kenyans have come to terms with facts of the crisis tossing aside prior myths and misconceptions about the virus.

Resilience has kept many people and nations going. Kenyans are hardworking and a nation determined to pray and will overcome difficult challenges.

Meanwhile, even harder truths have now been realised.

Back in June, the Ministry of Health (MOH) lead by Director General Patrick Amoth warned our pick will hit in late August or early September where the country would see up to 1,000 infections a day while the number of fatalities would now be in the triple digits.

In June, barely a few were able to see the grim statistics coming into play, but first forward to the present, we are barely shy of the 1,000 infections a day mark while deaths have climbed into the hundreds.

As MoH carries out more tests and covers the ground around the country, more infections will be inevitably discovered.

Luckily for Kenya, the majority of new infections remain asymptomatic easing pressure on the current stretched hospital capacities.

Operation warp speed

More on the positive side, the world is now racing towards the development of an effective vaccine in the hunt for an end to the pandemic.

In the United States, operation warp speed- a term coined from the theoretic shortening of space/interstellar travel is being pursued.

At the centre of the operation being the speedy and effective development of a working vaccine.

At the heart of the operation are giant pharmaceuticals companies among them renowned Pfizer and German based BioNTech.

The two who have the backing to the tune of billions of dollars are leading the pack for the timely delivery of a virus’ antidote.

Already the US has put out orders in the range of 500 million doses for a deal in excess of $2 billion in value.

Other front runners in the race include British-Swedish multinational Astra Zeneca which is eyeing the mass production of vaccine doses in coming months, Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK.L) and French drug maker Sanofi (SASY .PA).

The operation already shows promise at the early stage I phase and definitive success will now lie at the mass testing stage III.

Cambridge based Moderna’s vaccine trials have for instance shown high immune responses among test subjects along with minimal side effects.

Clinical tests for vaccine candidates which now total to more than 160 are now being conducted around the world with South Africa representing the only trials in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The operation is expected to culminate in the development of at least two million doses of an effective antidote in 2021.

Drug trials

Complementing the push for a cure are drug trials.

Here, Kenya is among the pioneers for a breakthrough testing the efficacy of both remdesivir and rheumatoid arthritis drug actemra/tocilizumab at the Aga Khan University Hospital.

The drug tests if successful will be administered to patients with severe virus complications are seen softening the number of fatalities.

The tests are however seen a search for a second chance with previous tests to the arthritis drug failing to deliver the elusive results in tests undertaken in Italy where no effect was registered on patients with early stage Covid-19 pneumonia.

Expectations

While efforts towards an eventual cure should be lauded and optimism attached to the endeavour, caution and the management of expectations must follow.

In spite of the first moving trials, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus says a magical vaccine is still not guaranteed.

In his statement, the top WHO official said there remains no silver bullet to the pandemic and there might as well never be any.

The pragmatism in the world health governing body has further been supported by US top expert on infectious diseases Anthony Fauci who has also called for the need to be cautiously optimistic.

Even if the vaccine was available today, mass production and the distribution of the vaccine is no walk in the park.

Senior Vice President at drug wholesale and Distribution Company AmeriSource Bergen Heather Zenk was quoted by the Healthline website in the US saying it might take months until most people are immunised.

Vaccines usually require among other factors safe distribution patterns.

Moreover, the first doses available from a proven vaccine will likely be administered first to frontline health professionals.

The rush for a vaccine has meanwhile drawn criticism with WHO, for instance, cautioning Russia against skipping all trial stages in their push for a vaccine which the country hopes to bring on board this October.

Basics

In light caution the world over, Kenya and Kenyans must, therefore, manage their expectations too on the outcome of both clinical trials to vaccines and drug trials.

At the same time, the essence must primarily remain in the prevention of new infections and not the cure.

Kenyans must not lower their guard in abiding by the guidelines put in place by MoH.

The wearing of masks, physical distancing and hand sanitisation/hygiene should remain the prerogative even as positive developments towards a cure advance.

The Ministry of Health (MoH) must remain on the fore-front ensuring the message in the Covid-19 fight is not lost on the country.

On a more positive note, it could be months to the containment of the pandemic.

The management of expectations is, however, the essence. I may forecast global trade and economies are cautious but opening up in structured steps.

It's now up to all of us to keep safety protocols consistent, as we keep the economies and life journey moving forward.

Chris Diaz is the Director EABC and Group Director Bidco Africa

@DiazChrisAfrica