SCIENTISTS SEEK PANDEMIC HOTSPOTS TO TEST COVID-19 VACCINES

Vaccine developers are in a hurry to fly to global COVID-19 hotspots to test their vaccines and the lower the infection rate, the lower the chances of developing a foolproof vaccine against the deadly virus.


In a story written for Reuters by Kate Kelland and Julie Steenhuysen on June 1, 2020, scientists in Europe and the United States say the relative success of draconian lockdown and social distancing policies in some areas and countries means virus transmission rates may be at such low levels that there is not enough disease circulating to truly test potential vaccines and they may have to look for pandemic hotspots in Africa and Latin America, to get convincing results.

"Ironically, if we’re really successful using public health measures to stamp out the hot spots of viral infection, it will be harder to test the vaccine,” said Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the US. But running large-scale clinical trials of potential vaccines against a completely new disease at speed is complex, scientists say. Showing efficacy in those trials during a fluctuating pandemic adds extra difficulty - and doing so when outbreaks are waning makes it harder still.

“For this to work, people need to have a risk of infection in the community. If the virus has been temporarily cleared out, then the exercise is futile,” said Ayfer Ali, an expert in drug repurposing at Britain’s Warwick Business School. The solution is to move to areas where the infection is being spread widely in the community – that would be countries like Brazil and Mexico at the moment.”

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