World cannot wait for Covid-19 vaccine, must work with tools at hand: Experts

The world cannot wait for, or expect, a vaccine to stop the pandemic. People and countries must work with the tools they have today, said many of the 16 speakers at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s final Covid-19 webinar last night.

“It is not going away, we are not going to eradicate it in the foreseeable future, so we have got to learn to live with it as a constant threat, keeping it at bay, stopping it from welling up, getting on with our economic and social lives,” said Professor David Nabarro of Imperial College London.

Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said there is an “extraordinary amount of research and development on vaccines”. But even with a successful vaccine, there is insufficient capacity in the world today to produce enough for all who need it.

Many experts, both local and international, also stressed the critical need for global solidarity to overcome the pandemic.

Dr Margaret Hamburg of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the United States said: “The biomedical research and health communities have come together in unprecedented ways, across disciplines and sectors and borders, and they have moved at unprecedented speed.”

This, she said, gives her reason for optimism in the midst of the crisis.

Dr Marie-Paule Kieny of Inserm, a public scientific and technolo-gical institute in France, said that there is “no alternative to global solidarity, because we are all there together”.

She said some governments want to be able to immunise their whole population before anybody else gets the vaccine. “I think that this is not the way to go.”

She hopes, in the rush for a vaccine, that no vaccine would be used before it is proven to be effective as that could lead to greater “vaccine scepticism” and a loss of trust in children’s vaccination programmes.

Dr Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said no country on its own will be able to beat the pandemic.

“Covid-19 is everywhere in the world, and I think the best way to beat this pandemic is for countries to learn from each other, share best practices and certainly I think cooperate in terms of trying to mitigate the spread of the virus further.”

Professor John Wong, a senior adviser at the National University Health System, said the world has to remain united and pool collective expertise to tackle what is a global health, economic, social and geopolitical crisis.

He added: “Perhaps our greatest gift to our children and grand-children is to learn from this and do everything to prevent the next pandemic.”

What the experts say


(Clockwise from top left) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Dr Margaret Hamburg, Professor David Nabarro, Professor David Heymann, Professor Chong Yap Seng and Professor Richard Horton. PHOTOS: REUTERS, NUS, PIRANAH PHOTOGRAPHY, AFP

FAILURE TO PREPARE

It has never been clearer that health is a political and economic choice. In the past 20 years, countries have invested heavily in preparing for terrorist attacks but relatively little in preparing for the attack of a virus which, as the pandemic has proven, can be far more deadly, disruptive and costly.

DR TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, director-general of the World Health Organisation.

ALARM BELLS IGNORED

The Covid catastrophe is tragic for so many reasons, but in part because it was predictable. Alarms have been ignored for decades and promises to prepare have been broken. We have seen the cycles of crisis, concern, and then complacency.

DR MARGARET HAMBURG of the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, and former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration.

PUT SOCIETY BEFORE SELF

I am convinced that if we can put our hearts and minds to it, we can prevail, but it needs us all to acknowledge the importance of putting society before self, to maintain the discipline, to not be complacent.

PROFESSOR DAVID NABARRO, Imperial College London.

LESSONS FROM ASIA

People in Asia have had much solidarity among themselves, not only in understanding and doing prevention for themselves but also in preventing infection from others. Lessons that we have learnt in Asia will be very important, moving forward.

PROFESSOR DAVID HEYMANN, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

NEED FOR HUMILITY

A few countries including Singapore were initially held up as models for other countries to follow in dealing with Covid-19. Without fail, all of them succumbed to huge outbreaks subsequently. There is a need for humility in the face of an unknown and unpredictable novel pathogen.

PROFESSOR CHONG YAP SENG, dean, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.

IMPACT ON THE VULNERABLE

Our societies are much more brittle than we thought. And this fact has important implications for how we manage the pandemic in the future, because the vulnerable groups in our societies have been starkly revealed… We are seeing that Covid-19, as is the case for all pandemics, strikes the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest.

PROFESSOR RICHARD HORTON, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Lancet.

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