Caveat Emptor: The Case of Covid-19 Vaccine

POLITI-COVID is a form of virus that is now gripping the world resulting in another psychological anxiety.

Most anxiously is the possible lockdowns that could happen again, although in Malaysia the assurance thus far is that it will only on targeted basis.

Internationally, politi-Covid is proving real with some leaders caught by their own foolishness falling from the brink of populist policies and manoeuvrings.

Fewer are now convinced on the call “not to be afraid of the coronavirus” as the debates to comply or defy the widely-agreed SOPs rages on.

Especially when politicians themselves saw it fit to violate such procedures. Unfortunately, many got away with it while the mortal citizens have to bear with so much inconveniences which are otherwise avoidable.

Politi-Covid ideological leanings might explain why Covid-19 pandemic seems to remain much longer in some areas and countries. The truth is ‘political will’ is needed to end the viral transmission as expressed by Nobel laureates in Medicine last week – Charles Rice of The Rockefeller University and Harvey Alter of the National Institutes of Health.

They observed that although technological advancements and international cooperation have accelerated scientific understanding of Covid-19, it takes “political will” to stop virus outbreaks.

Rice and Alter were honoured along with Briton Michael Houghton for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus.

Alter said, the science of Hepatitis C, which kills about 400,000 people every year, is now possible, but not without political will. “What we need is the political will to eradicate it,” he added. In the same way, this is where politi-Covid could make a difference for Covid-19.

“The kind of things that needs to be done mainly is to test and treat. If we had a great rapid test and a great treatment for Covid, it would be the same principle,” he added.

Meanwhile, Houghton emphasised that it was also necessary to respect basic health rules as per the SOPs. He observed: “It is disconcerting when you see not everyone doing what you know as a virologist makes sense, which is to socially (sic) distancing and wear a mask and so forth.”

Indeed, this is among the many divisive political issues that is taking centre stage. Although technological advances may have made vast improvements in cutting short the investigative processes and trials with greater accuracy, the mantra of test, test, test with greater clarity and evidence is still very much the bottom line before safety and efficacy can really be accepted with confidence worldwide.

In this regard, another politi-Covid move is to ramp up effort to have a vaccine before the US presidential election barely a one month away, could be disastrous scientifically speaking.

The availability of a Covid-19 vaccine has been billed an important strategy to winning the election.

It seems to have been centred on actions taken against the pandemic. Or the lack thereoft. In the words of the director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) division responsible for approving vaccines, Dr. Peter Marks, recently: “Being open and clear about the circumstances under which the issuance of an emergency use authorization for a Covid-19 vaccine would be appropriate and is critical to building public confidence and ensuring the use of Covid-19 vaccines once available.”

In fact, the FDA reportedly told coronavirus vaccine developers that at least two months of safety data is required before authorising emergency use for experimental vaccine.

This will hold back any US vaccine availability before the presidential election expected on Nov 3. However, this might not deter other vaccine producers in the rush to cash in on the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here we need to exercise the old maxim of ‘Caveat Emptor’, a Latin phrase that translate as to “let the buyer beware,” often used to remind consumers the principle that places the onus on the buyer (patients) to perform due diligence before making a purchase made complex by the unsuspectingly politi-Covid unethical pressures.

The writer, a New Straits Times columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector.


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