The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world. It's the biggest public health threat humanity is currently facing. Now, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), a global network of science, engineering, and medical academies with over 30,000 members across 100 nations, has released what it believes are emerging public health threats related to the crisis.
In a communiqué, the organization warned cutting corners in the race to a vaccine, anti-vaxxers, and vaccine nationalism are all looming threats that could dramatically hinder our ability to fight against the pandemic.
In many countries across the globe, Covid-19 quickly became a political issue, with numbers of cases being suppressed, the gravity of the pandemic dismissed by government leaders, and the use of masks – the simplest, cheapest, most effective way of containing the virus – considered an affront to personal freedom, rather than a way to protect oneself, like a seatbelt on a car. Lately, the concern has been on politicians trying to have vaccines out before safety tests have been concluded.
“The race for a Covid-19 vaccine must not be allowed to hurt the public: while there is a pressing need to accelerate this process to the greatest degree possible, there are also grave dangers if corners are cut. The standard phases of clinical vaccine trials must proceed with appropriate scientific rigour, in particular, the collection of the robust evidence needed to demonstrate large-scale safety and efficacy,” IAP President Volker ter Meulen, who is a prominent virologist and the former president of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, said in a statement.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are currently 34 vaccines undergoing clinical trials with 142 more in preclinical evaluation. While there have been some positive results, no vaccine has been approved for wide-scale inoculation anywhere in the world. The long-term resilience of humanity against Covid-19 is a common responsibility, and the anti-vaxx lobby is very keen to undermine campaigns to get people vaccinated. Social media posts have already started circulating warning people against a vaccine.
“Confidence and trust in tried-and-tested vaccines have already been compromised by the anti-vaxx movement. We must ensure an open, high integrity, science-driven process for the development and review of Covid-19 vaccines so that doubts will not be fueled about the safety of the new Covid-19 vaccine, which could compromise the health of people, risk prolonging the Covid-19 pandemic, and potentially further undermine confidence in the vaccine enterprise overall,” added IAP Health Co-chair Margaret Hamburg, former Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The last point of concern is how the vaccine will be distributed once it is available. There won’t be 7.8 billion doses ready to go, once one is approved. The WHO plans to have the doses it acquires distributed equitably, as do the 170 countries currently in talks to join Covax, the international effort to find a vaccine. The US, however, has decided not to join, and plans to go it alone.
“So-called ‘vaccine nationalism’, or the buying-up in advance of stocks of future vaccines exclusively for national use is unacceptable, and access to the vaccine by countries and individuals should be based on need and not on ability to pay,” warned IAP Science Co-Chair Krishan Lal, Past President of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA).
As of September 7, over 27 million people have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus and developed Covid-19 over the last nine and a half months. Almost 900,000 people died because of the disease, with millions left with long-term health effects.