Injection of Hope: The hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine
“We’re optimistic and we think that we’ve got enough irons in the fire to solve the problem, but we certainly don’t want to give false hope.” Viral infectious diseases expert
Coronavirus restrictions are starting to loosen and our cities and towns are showing more signs of life than they have in months. But health authorities and the federal and state governments insist that without an effective vaccine or treatment for coronavirus, life cannot fully return to normal.
“The pressure has been enormous…in normal vaccine development you would have months to work some of these issues out. We’ve got days and weeks to do that instead.” Professor of Virology & vaccine researcher
Australian scientists are at the forefront of this hunt for a vaccine, working around the clock on several promising contenders. The stakes are high, and the degree of difficulty is intense.
“People need to appreciate that trying to develop a vaccine in the face of a pandemic is a bit like trying to do a Houdini trick where someone puts a bag over your head so you can’t see. There’s much more that you don’t know to what you do know.” Director of Endocrinology & vaccine researcher
On Monday Four Corners takes you into their world, where they face extraordinary scientific hurdles as well as extreme moral and ethical dilemmas.
“It is cutting edge science and so we have to go carefully because we don’t want anything that puts people at risk.” Chair, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
While their efforts showcase the best that science has to offer, behind their impressive endeavours is a story of missed opportunities and a lack of preparedness. Many had been warning of a likely pandemic for years, only to see resources and efforts invested elsewhere.
“We’ve seen our teams dissolve, disperse, expertise go overseas because the funding just wasn’t able to sustain the work or a salary for any of those people. I think we’ve lost a lot of capability over the last couple of years.” Viral infectious diseases expert
Infectious diseases experts say our ability to respond to this predictable outbreak has been undermined by funding cuts and short-term thinking.
“It’s a sad reality that funding for preparedness in these areas runs on the cycle that we describe as being one of panic and then neglect.” Former Secretary of the Dept of Health
In the event a vaccine is developed, some fear that individual nations may refuse to share it until their own populations have been inoculated.
“What we don’t want to see is a level of vaccine nationalism, where countries basically are not prepared to contribute to the global effort…it’s in nobody’s interest.” Former Secretary of the Dept of Health
The program also explores the contentious question of who gets to profit from any future vaccine, and whether it will be made available to those least able to afford it.
“It’s very easy to criticise big pharma, but to be quite blunt until someone comes up with an alternative, we have to go with what we’ve got.” Immunologist & former Australian of the Year
As scientists race to invent and test a range of possible vaccines, those funding much of the research say we should be cautiously optimistic.
“We’ve never seen this level of collaboration, cooperation. We’ve seen unusual bedfellows. The private sector, the public sector, science, medicine, everyone coming together.” Chair, Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations
It is replayed on Tuesday 9th of June at 1.00pm and Wednesday 10th at 11.20pm. It can also be seen on ABC NEWS channel on Saturday at 8.10pm AEST, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.