COVID-19 has now infected almost half-a-million people worldwide, killing 21,000 in the process, as leading countries, including the UK, go into strict lockdown to prevent further spread. Scientists have been working day and night to develop a vaccine, but have warned it could take as long as two years to be ready. This is because the effective antivirals must be rigorously tested to ensure they not only work but will not cause other dangerous side-effects.
In 2008, the History Channel released “The Next Plague,” a documentary looking at this very scenario and the impact it could have.
Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) director Dr Michael Osterholm said: “Out most important course of action is to ask ourselves how we are going to get through the next 12 to 18 months?
“How do you get through every day, do you have food and water? Basic security? What are the goods and services that I can count on to be there?
“Will we, in fact, go to war, or school? Will we travel?
“In the developing world today, infectious disease is the number one killer of people.
“Now we have to face the prospect that could happen in the developed world.”
However, even when a vaccine is ready, WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley had some bad news.
He said: “To stop the spread of a flu pandemic, we would have to produce enough vaccine to inoculate every single person in the world.
“That’s six billion plus people, quite clearly that cannot be done.”
When people are infected by the milder human coronaviruses that cause cold-like symptoms, they remain immune for less than a year.
By contrast, the few who were infected by the original SARS virus in 2002, which is a distant relative of COVID-19, stayed immune for much longer.
Assuming that COVID-19 lies somewhere in the middle, people who recover from the virus might be protected for a number of years.
If so, those people can return to work, care for the vulnerable, and stabilise the economy during bouts of social distancing.
This would mean the demand for vaccines would be dragged out over a longer period of time.
Yesterday, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty revealed a test to see whether someone has already had coronavirus is being developed and will be ready in “the near future”.
The antibody test will identify those with immunity, including doctors and nurses, and allow them to return to work.