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Half cure

25 June 2020 By Aimee Donnellan

Vaccines can only half kill the coronavirus. Governments around the world are ploughing cash into developing a potential barrier to Covid-19. But while the inoculations under development can make the disease less lethal, they are unlikely to eradicate it. The economic damage caused by the virus could linger.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday it is a matter of “when and not if” drugmakers are successful in developing a vaccine, arguing that one could be available as soon as December. Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck and Johnson & Johnson will test doses on thousands of humans in the coming months. AstraZeneca, which is working with the University of Oxford, has begun making up to 2 billion doses which could be ready in September if its vaccine clears clinical trials.

A successful vaccine would mean fewer deaths. Many of the drugs under development create antibodies that help fight the coronavirus infection. The Oxford University version, for example, claims to prevent the disease from taking hold in the lower lungs, meaning patients would no longer need to be hooked up to ventilators. Sanofi’s similarly aims to prevent hospitalisation and death. But crucially these vaccines cannot prevent infection or the transmission of the virus – known as sterilising immunity. The holy grail in vaccine development, where infection is eradicated, remains out of reach.

The United States has given over $2 billion to develop vaccines being developed by drugmakers Sanofi, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and AstraZeneca. The European Commission has earmarked 2.7 billion euros help fund development. The activity has pumped up pharma giants’ share prices, even though they are unlikely to make a profit on any vaccine that works.

If consumers are reassured that contracting Covid-19 is less likely to kill them, it should speed their return to restaurants, airplanes and concert halls.

But the residual risk will still weigh on activity. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development economies are forecast to see severe contractions this year. If infection is still a risk, vulnerable and older consumers may avoid venturing out to spend money. A vaccine win is only a partial salve to the world’s economic woe.


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