DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2020 - 12:00am

It is unfortunate our Great Leader has placed all his hopes initially on a Chinese vaccine, and now on a prematurely approved Russian vaccine. Getting a vaccine to market isn’t as simple as he might think.

The development of vaccines follow an accepted scientific procedure over a period of time. Vaccines normally take years to safely introduce in the market. Not only must the vaccine be proven effective, safety is also a prime concern, as Dengvaxia taught us.

As it happens, many groups are now rushing the development of a vaccine for COVID, a disease that did not exist until December last year. Many have repurposed their vaccine development intended for other diseases to fast track one for COVID.

Last Tuesday, on orders of President Putin, a  Russian health care regulator approved a vaccine for the coronavirus, even though the vaccine has yet to complete clinical trials. The New York Times reported that the announcement raised alarm around the world that Moscow is cutting corners on testing to score political and propaganda points.

The NY Times reported that the scientific body that developed the Russian vaccine, the Gamaleya Institute, has yet to conduct Phase 3 tests on tens of thousands of volunteers in highly controlled trials, a process seen as the only method of ensuring a vaccine is actually safe and effective.

The WHO had warned last week that Russia should not stray from the usual methods of testing a vaccine for safety and effectiveness. But Mr. Putin was adamant that the trials already done were sufficient.

Other than safety and potency, scientists also want to find out the duration of the COVID antibody generated  by a vaccine. Useless if short lived. There are major questions that require time and analysis to ascertain before mass use is allowed.

Our Great Leader gave the impression it was all systems go for the Russian vaccine as he volunteered to be injected with it first, a jet ski moment for him.

Later reports indicated that the Russians are actually in talks with our health officials for a wide scale stage 3 clinical trial here... Filipino guinea pigs... that’s why it is supposedly “free”. No objections if congressmen and PhilHealth officials volunteer for this test. Apparently, Russia’s vaccine will belatedly complete its stage 3 clinical trials in various locations, including here.

The Moderna vaccine already started stage 3 clinical trials last July with 70,000 participants in 80 locations in the US. Their stage 3 trials will take six months, which is already considered a short cut.

Hopefully, our FDA is not pressured by Malacanang to just green light the Russian vaccine without our own experts having a look see. The Russians have also not shared any scientific data on their vaccine for other experts to verify.

For our Great Leader to depend on a rushed vaccine also neglects the reality that people must be convinced to have themselves innoculated with it. Thanks to Dengvaxia, public trust in vaccines among our people has diminished. If it is Chinese or Russian, more so.

Then again, we are finding out that this COVID virus is not producing the expected duration of immunity among our local patients. The amount of antibodies declined significantly in just a few months. This affects the potential usefulness of a vaccine.

The odds of a coronavirus vaccine being highly effective are low, Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week. He also said getting people to take it might not be easy, either.

“The chances of it being 98 percent effective is not great,” Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said at a Q&A with the Brown University School of Public Health in Rhode Island, according to CNBC.

“Which means you must never abandon the public health approach,” explained Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. We are going to have to wear masks and social distance for a long time. Health officials will have to continue testing and isolating.

That in some cases, infected persons did not produce the expected antibodies is bad news for potential vaccines. But so called T cells, that also play a role in our immune system, were detected.

The body should produce both protective antibodies, which keep the virus from invading, and killer T cells, which tell virus-infected human cells to destroy themselves to keep the virus from spreading. But in a subset of those who tested positive for COVID-19, they found T cells, but no antibodies.

Scientists don’t know what it means in terms of assessing how well a vaccine will work, or how well people are protected from severe forms of the disease. Concerns were raised about vaccines, since stimulating antibody production is a key strategy by which immunizations protect against disease. If some people infected with SARS-CoV-2 don’t produce antibodies, it could mean they might not respond to a vaccine.

We have a lot of unknowns: If you do become immune to SARS-CoV-2, when and how does that occur? Will you gain immunity from a mild or asymptomatic case, as well as a severe one? How long will that immunity last?

“The answers will have huge implications for social distancing and masking and for getting the economy back up and running,” says Michael Peluso, MD, a clinical fellow at UCSF. We hope we will beat COVID. Swiftly – or, better yet, avoid the virus until there is a vaccine that works.

It is clearly complicated, and we must make sure our Great Leader and his minions at IATF and DOH realize this war may take longer than they think. Government cannot bank on a magic bullet of a vaccine, from Russia or elsewhere.

Of course, we all have to pray, but we need to figure out how to live with this virus.

In the meantime, Filipino humor quickly took hold with news of the Russian vaccine Putin called Sputnik-V. Our comedians would rather call it RushYan.

And because Putin implied it would be the mother of all vaccines, PutinIna, was suggested. Will it be Putin-C or Vitamin Xi? Humor is how we vaccinate ourselves from grief in these times. It is our only remaining luxury.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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