What if a Covid-19 vaccine doesn't eventuate?

 

Yesterday ABC News reported "...the Federal Government have hosed down initial hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine by early next year, with some health experts believing it is still "very unlikely" Australia will have a jab available by the middle of 2021..."

It's understandable that political leaders and those involved with producing a Covid-19 vaccine are enthusiastic about touting the availability of the drug as soon as possible. We've all experienced this type of optimism. We also know that more often than not, there's a huge disparity between the well-meaning intensions of optimistic people and reality.

In this instance, we're dealing with the development of a drug for the biggest market ever. Drugs are typically developed for portions of the planet's population, not for the planet's entire population. The complexities of making a drug safe enough to satisfy the regulatory requirements associated with the diversity of the global population are staggering and possibly insurmountable in a short timeframe.

As can be seen from the Wellcome infographic below, producing a vaccine takes a long time. Typically 10-16 years.

 

Developing a Covid-19 vaccine is however a very special case, due to the global spread and impact of the virus. An unprecedented level of collaboration and painstakingly hard work is being carried to compress a best-case 3-4 year vaccine development campaign into 12 months. This challenge is therefore not without risk and many decision makers are under immense pressure to get their vaccines to market.

The ramifications of this will undoubtedly leave the general public wondering if the vaccine is safe in relation to their own particularly circumstances. Some might even conclude that being infected might be better for them than a drug that has been developed in a hurry. The longer it takes for the vaccine to arrive, the greater the probability of the vaccine being safer. Also the longer it takes, the greater the probability of a greater proportion of the global population being infected. Meaning that the people are afforded more opportunities to gauge the effects of infection and develop opinions about whether to risk being infected vs taking a vaccine.

This is far from being acceptable options and for this reason I favor Plan C.

As we currently know it, Plan A involves suppressing the spread of the virus by largely getting people to attempt avoiding the virus and isolating from it. The consequence of this plan has limited effectiveness in reducing the spread and produces massive economic damage.

Plan B is mass inoculations if and when a vaccine is produced. The primary problem with Plan B is that at best estimates a vaccine might only to be ready for market in the second half of 2021. It will then take further 2-3 years to get enough of the global population inoculated to achieve herd immunity.

So to Plan C. It essentially involves taking actions to kill the virus at every opportunity. The way it works is best explained by this example.

It's well understood that the virus spreads substantially more efficiently in enclosed, poorly ventilated places where people gather. This could be in a train, cinema, restaurant, pub, shopping center, conference or a myriad of similar places.

Let's say in this example the place is a restaurant in which there are 100 people. If through testing, we only permitted people with a negative coronavirus test to enter the restaurant, then there will be no virus transmission among that group. However, in reality this would be impractical. Some would also argue that a negative test is not a sure-fire guarantee that someone with a negative result is not carrying the virus at the time they enter the restaurant.

Based on what we've learnt, it's reasonably safe to estimate that in a restaurant of 100 people, one or two people might unknowingly be carrying the virus. In a worst-case scenario everyone in that restaurant could become infected. The probability and extent of transmission is a function of the rate at which the concentration of the virus increases within the air volume of the restaurant and the time the patrons spends in that environment.

If the air inside the restaurant is constantly being changed at a high rate (>12 air changes per hour) or if the air is disinfected at a similar rate, then the probability of infection transmission is dramatically reduced.

Similarly, if the table & chairs are regular disinfected, at least after each sitting, then transmission is additionally reduced. Other actions that would aid in transmission retardation is the use of contactless ordering & payment via phone app, as well as replacing salt, pepper, sugar and condiment dispensers with sachet versions.

The point here is that taking positive actions that either physically kill the virus or eliminate transmission pathway is substantially more beneficial than doing nothings.

This is Plan C thinking and it can be applied to many other situations, like hotels, commercial passenger jets, supermarkets, offices, airports, hospitals, covid testing stations, etc.....

Plan C is not a complete antidote, but collective actions along multiple fronts will allow us to do a better job than Plan A. It also satisfies one of our major human needs. That being the need to contribute and make a difference in our community.

There are lots of solutions, other than lockdowns and waiting for vaccines. These solutions also represent opportunities to repair the economic damage as well as create new jobs. So I implore you to think about what actions you can take to beat this virus and share this message with as many people as possible.

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