The push to make a coronavirus vaccine is moving at breakneck speed. This week, the first of a few dozen healthy volunteers in Seattle, Washington, received a vaccine in a phase 1 safety trial sponsored by the US government. Similar safety trials of other coronavirus vaccines will also begin soon. Nature reported.
Even as these ‘first in human’ trials get going, key questions about how our immune system fights off the virus — and how to safely trigger a similar immune response with a vaccine — remain unanswered. Answers might come soon from studies of infected people and animal models, but some researchers say that the lack of information should not keep experts from beginning safety trials in people. Others worry that if vaccine candidates released on an accelerated schedule turn out to be ineffective or, worse, unsafe, it could send researchers back to the drawing board and end up delaying the development and wide-scale roll-out of an effective vaccine.
Meanwhile, Pulitzer Center announced the Coronavirus News Collaboration Challenge, a new grant designed to encourage innovative journalist and newsroom collaboration on the coverage of the global coronavirus pandemic across state and national borders. This opportunity is open to all independent journalists and newsrooms in the United States and abroad.
The coronavirus crisis comes at a time of scarce media resources, as state, local, and national governments shut down daily life in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. This unique grant opportunity encourages journalists and newsrooms to find creative ways to work together and share their reporting to educate the public on this fast-moving story. The Pulitzer Center is open to supporting multiple reporting collaborations throughout 2020.
According to LSE (London School of Economic) blogger Helen Yaffe, who is a lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow, amongst the 30 medicines chosen by the Chinese National Health Commission to fight the virus was a Cuban anti-viral drug called Interferon Alfa-2B, which has been produced in China by the Cuban-Chinese joint venture ChangHeber since 2003.
Cuban Interferon Alfa-2B has proven effective for viruses with characteristics similar to those of COVID-19. Cuban biotech specialist Dr Luis Herrera Martínez explains that “its use prevents aggravation and complications in patients, reaching that stage that can ultimately result in death.”
Cuba first developed and used interferons to arrest a deadly outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981, and that experience catalysed the development of the island’s now world-leading biotech industry. While most developing countries had little access to new technologies (recombinant DNA, human gene therapy, biosafety), Cuban biotechnology expanded and took on an increasingly strategic role in both the public-health sector and the national economic development plan. And this despite the US blockade, which obstructed access to technologies, equipment, materials, finance, and even knowledge exchange. Driven by public-health demand, it has been characterised by its fast track from research and innovation to trials and application, as the story of Cuban interferon shows.
Cover photo: Trials of a potential vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus began this week/Shutterstock