The coronavirus threat won’t end with a vaccine or the turning of the calendar, the leader of Australia’s COVID-19 research team has warned.
But, with luck, the vaccine may be delivered right under our noses.
In an interview with The New Daily, the CSIRO’s director of Health and Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said even when a potential vaccine passes through the necessary pre-clinical trials, it won’t be a green light to ‘get on the beers’ and return to life as it used to be before the pandemic.
“Living with the virus is definitely the most likely future scenario,” Dr Grenfell told The New Daily.
“It’s what we are all referring to as the ‘new normal’.
“It means, how do we maintain cleanliness in our community to decrease the risk of contracting it?”
Spray up the nose could be the answer
Dr Grenfell, who manages a team of about 50 scientists in developing a coronavirus vaccine, said even if we do get inoculated, it was “highly likely” we would need a vaccination every year.
The CSIRO team have been working tirelessly around the clock, testing two potential vaccines on ferrets.
One vaccine is produced by INOVIO Pharmaceuticals in the United States and the other by the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
And in better news for Australians with a fear of needles, the CSIRO researchers are looking at administering the vaccine via a nasal spray.
“You catch (COVID-19) through your nose, so if you have antibodies that are primed on the surface of your nose, that is logically a great place to have them,” he said.
Worst not over yet
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has issued a sobering reminder that the world still has a long way to go to get back to “normal” and the first wave of the virus was still surging.
On Wednesday morning, the WHO’s senior health expert Dr Mike Ryan said the coronavirus was “actually on the way up”.
We’re still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up,’’
– Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Programme
Calling for leaders to put health before the economy, Dr Ryan singled out Brazil as an example of how dangerous it is to prematurely ease restrictions.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro is ploughing ahead with plans to lift shutdowns despite the country becoming the second biggest hot spot for coronavirus infections after the US (366,000 compared to more than 1.6 million American cases).
Australia has recorded 7133 cases of coronavirus. There are 478 active cases. SA has recorded its first case in three weeks while the ACT and NT have no active cases.
The national death toll is 102 – NSW 50, Victoria 19, Tasmania 13, WA nine, Queensland 6, SA four, ACT three. (Two Queensland residents who died in NSW have been included in both state’s counts).
Six crew from the Al Kuwait live export ship tested positive after docking in Fremantle on May 22.
So, how do we get out of this?
Dr Grenfell outlined two likely events that would help lead us out of the pandemic:
- Scientists create a vaccine that is effective enough at curbing the virus’ spread; and
- We find a drug that reduces the severity of the virus’ symptoms.
“Let’s just say that scenario one is we do have some potential vaccines that are effective enough,” Dr Grenfell said.
“Then we might find ourselves in the first quarter of next year starting to administer that globally, which is great.
“The other thing we might find is some drugs that might modify it, to stop people getting so sick that they need ventilators. That would be fantastic.”
Mutations and complications
After studying the makeup of SARS CoV-2, the bug that causes COVID-19, CSIRO researchers found the virus was changing into several ‘clusters’ that might affect the development of a vaccine.
So should we be worried?
“What we’re targeting with our vaccines has not been changing,” Dr Grenfell said.
“We’re still trying to work out if these differences make people sicker.”
From what we know so far, the mutations of the virus tend to be more lethal depending on where you live.
Dr Grenfell said in densely populated places like New York, where more than 16,000 people have died from COVID-19, the virus had become “quite volatile”.
“The changes that are going on globally are very important, because if the virus is radically changing then our vaccines won’t be effective,” he said.