#EAPM – A worldwide call to arms on #COVID-19? 

| May 19, 2020

UK response to pandemic – ‘Softly, softly’

It has certainly been a case of gently, gently for the UK in recent weeks concerning the government’s gradual, very gradual easing of the UK’s lockdown – the British instinct to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ was the public face of the government’s response to COVID-19, writes European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) Executive Director Denis Horgan.

Throughout recent weeks, the UK mantra has been “we will act at the appropriate time according to the science”, but the global spread of COVID-19 has generated aggressive medical and public health responses, including testing, screening, contact tracing, social distancing, travel restrictions, and orders to stay at home when sick or exposed. 

Yet trust must begin with communication, and communicating information during outbreaks is challenging, especially as the knowledge of the disease in question remains limited. Perhaps somewhat unfairly, the Conservative government has been criticized and pressurized over its response to COVID-19 – we await the public’s verdict on how well the powers that be take us out of lockdown.

Free testing and back to school

And it is being strongly argued worldwide that governments and health-care systems should provide care to patients without adequate access to health services or insurance benefits, both for COVID-19 and existing medical conditions. Free testing for COVID-19 is essential, but the efficacy of health services worldwide to provide such a service has been inconsistent at best. As governments and institutions continue with social distancing measures (which are likely to continue in the UK for several more months at least, school and university closures are disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups, in particular students with disabilities and those reliant on their educational institution for food, shelter, residency, and safety. The UK is working towards a return to school for primary-age children from 1 June, but it remains to be seen how successful this will be.

EAPM’s next online conference takes place on 30 June, click here for the agenda and to register, click here.The title is ‘Maintaining Public Trust in the use of Digital for Health Science in a COVID and post-Covid World’. 

Isolation anxiety

Increasingly, people who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 are being obliged to stay at home for 14 days,  but whether individuals can be expected to act in the interest of communal health at the expense of their need to work to support themselves and their families is another matter. 

In addition, and particularly in the UK, it has become quickly apparent that care and nursing homes, as well as prisons, have become focal points for outbreaks of COVID-19 – people in such settings often have inadequate access to basic health care, so inhabitants should be provided with testing and care to reduce the risk of outbreaks.

Is vaccination key?

Once upon a yester-year, smallpox was a disease that ravaged certain parts of the world, before a concerted World Health Organization vaccination programme eradicated the disease. It was all about vaccinating in developing countries, which initially had poor access to the vaccine for years, according to David Heymann, a distinguished fellow at Chatham House’s Global Health Programme and executive director of the World Health Organization’s Communicable Diseases Cluster.

The WHO has developed a framework in which companies agreed to provide a certain percentage of their vaccines to the WHO during a pandemic. But one problem to watch out for, according to Heymann, is that many countries won’t allow companies to export vaccines manufactured in their country until national demand is met. This could mean that countries with more manufacturing capacity could get first dibs on a coronavirus vaccine, thus vitiating the chances of a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Trump to the ‘rescue’?

As of 18 May, US President Donald Trump has threatened to permanently withdraw US funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) and quit the body entirely if it doesn’t move to “demonstrate independence” from China in the next 30 days. In a letter sent to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (which Trump tweeted out overnight), the US president repeated his “serious concerns” about the WHO’s “alarming lack of independence from the People’s Republic of China”. In a move destined to polarize opinion, Trump wrote: “If the World Health Organization does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the WHO permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization.”

However, the WHO’s COVID-19 response plan looks set to make it through the various rules of procedure unaltered, despite US opposition to wording around intellectual property flexibilities. The timeframe for member countries to voice their opposition to the text had been extended from Wednesday night (20 May) until midday Thursday, perhaps to try and iron out any wrinkles. It now needs to be presented to the public.

EAPM’s next online conference takes place on 30 June, click here for the agenda and to register, click here.The title is ‘Maintaining Public Trust in the use of Digital for Health Science in a COVID and post-Covid World’. 

China to the ‘rescue’?

However, and perhaps in anticipation of the criticism it knew would come from Mr. Trump, China has positioned itself as a global benefactor, promising to make any vaccine it develops a “global public good”. Vaccine development and deployment in China, “when available, will be made a global public good,” President Xi Jinping said, adding that this would help ensure its “accessibility and affordability in developing countries.” The call was echoed by German Health Minister Jens Spahn, who, on Monday (18 May) said: “Vaccination and medication has to become available to all mankind.”

Who’s first?

Sparking controversy in France, Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson gave an explosive interview to Bloomberg News, saying that the US should get its vaccine first because it helped foot the bill. That comment immediately drew the ire of major French politicians and European MEPs. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “strong discontent” about the comments, and Macron was due to meet with Hudson one-on-one at the Elysée on Tuesday (19 May), in what sounds like a summoning.

Hudson tried to cool things down earlier during an online interview with the Financial Times, in which he tried to pick his words more carefully. “My comments are really around what we need to do to make sure we’re in a similar situation in Europe — it was never a choice,” Hudson said. “We need to get vaccines to everybody across the world, all parts of the world, doses for everybody.” 

World leaders are also pushing for worldwide vaccine access. Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president and head of the African Union, was one of the more than 100 leaders who signed a petition saying the vaccine should be a “people’s vaccine,” and countries should make it patent-free and available to all at no cost.

MEPs ‘not impressed’

Citing Hudson’s comments, German S&D MEP Tiemo Wölken said public funds given to pharmaceutical research shouldn’t be a “gift to the companies”. Véronique Trillet-Lenoir from Renew Europe warned that Europe couldn’t just be left at the mercy of Sanofi or ‘Big Tech, and left-wing MEP Mick Wallage railed against the business the hardest, calling for the “immediate nationalization of the pharmaceutical industry”.

EAPM’s next online conference takes place on 30 June, click here for the agenda and to register, click here.The title is ‘Maintaining Public Trust in the use of Digital for Health Science in a COVID and post-Covid World’. 

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Category: A Frontpage, coronavirus, Coronavirus face masks, Coronavirus Global Response, COVID-19, EU, European Alliance for Personalised Medicine, Health, Personalised medicine, PPE

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