Voices of the Future: Paige Stevenson says we must not place profits over people in race for Covid-19 vaccine

Money is the foundation of our society. We work to earn it and we shop to spend it.

Its influence is particularly evident in the pharmacology industry as vaccine development requires public and private investments.

But has determination to chase profits held us back in the race for a Covid-19 vaccine?

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The world first experienced a respiratory coronavirus disease between 2002 and 2004 with severe acute respiratory syndrome – you may know it as SARS.

During the height of its spread, funders generously splashed the cash on vaccine research.

Once the virus disappeared, however, it took interest in SARS research with it.

Fast forward almost two decades and SARS-CoV-2 has already taken over a million more lives than SARS did.

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A Covid-19 vaccine still looks distant, despite what US President Trump may claim.

Yet, it did not necessarily have to be this way.

Dr Peter Hotez is co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Centre for Vaccine Development.

He and his team spent years developing, testing and manufacturing a potential SARS vaccine, following the outbreak of the virus in 2002.

Unfortunately, however, proceedings for the vaccine stalled at the clinical trial stage.

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He vocalised his frustration to a committee of the United States House of Representatives back in March.

“No one wants to invest in a product designed not to be used,” argued Dr Hotez.

“However.. there was a possibility that we could repurpose our SARS-CoV vaccine to fight SARS-CoV-2.”

Vaccine development is challenging and time-intensive for scientists, so funders often wait ten years before they receive any kind of payback.

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With SARS no longer posing a threat to public health, it looked unlikely that investments would return profit at all.

Funding dried up. Potential vaccines sat in freezers, unusable.

Dr Hotez’s vaccine may not have been effective. However, vaccine development is a learning process.

The more research scientists carry out, the more they know about the properties a successful vaccine could have.

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Politicians can also implement preventative and response strategies to prevent a new virus becoming the next pandemic.

The short-sightedness of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies who chase profits could well be at the cost of many lives in the future.

Covid-19 will hopefully be the catalyst that society needs to start redirecting research efforts for the greater good, rather than putting money in the pockets of the wealthy.

In the race to find a cure for Covid-19, we must not place profits over people.

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