Antiviral therapeutics 'need bigger push'
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Antiviral therapeutics 'need bigger push'

People receive a Covid-19 vaccine in Pathumwan district in December 2022. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)
People receive a Covid-19 vaccine in Pathumwan district in December 2022. (Photo: Somchai Poomlard)

Experts say antiviral therapeutics need to be an investment priority if another pandemic were to happen in the future, due to the possible length of time a vaccine takes to develop.

Sharon Lewin, infectious diseases expert and physician from the University of Melbourne, said that although the time it took to develop the Covid-19 vaccine was extraordinarily brief, the next pandemic may come with more difficulties and vaccines may not emerge in such a short time.

“Imagine a situation where we have a new pandemic and we can't make a vaccine, or it takes 10 years, not one year,” she told a recent virtual forum, "Fair Treatment: The place of therapeutics in future pandemics".

Dr Lewin is the head of the Cumming Global Centre for Pandemic Therapeutics, a centre to be developed under a $250 million grant from Canadian philanthropist Geoff Cumming.

The centre aims to provide long-term funding to researchers so they can develop platform technologies to control pandemics in the future.

“As we saw with Covid-19, even with an effective vaccine, people can still get infected and get sick, especially the elderly and immuno-suppressed who are at risk of more severe disease,” Dr Lewin said.

The first Covid-19 vaccine was approved in July 2020 and delivered in December 2020, according to the Doherty Institute.

However, the antiviral Paxlovid, was first administered in late 2021 and approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in May 2023, it said.

Dr Lewin said that if Covid-19 antivirals had been available at the same time as Covid-19 vaccines millions of lives globally could have been saved.

“What we learnt through Covid-19 is the antivirals came too late and they weren’t equally distributed,” she said.

Harjyot Khosa, adviser to the International Planned Parenthood Federation South Asia and Long Covid-19 Advocate in Delhi, said there are still access issues for vaccines and antivirals in low to middle income countries.

“In these countries, sex work communities, the transgender community, migrants and undocumented citizens don’t have citizen cards, making it difficult to get access to vaccines and antivirals for Covid-19,” she said.

Dr Khosa said that from her personal experience of having Covid-19 and being diabetic, access to antivirals was difficult. “We failed so many communities.”

At the 74th World Health Assembly to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 27 May to 1 June, the World Health Organization has set itself a deadline for the negotiations on a Pandemic Accord.

According to the Cumming Global Centre, a big chunk of the discussion over access concerned vaccines, with “the need for therapeutics far less prominent”

Hospital admissions due to Covid-19 in Thailand have been increasing since March, the Ministry of Public Health says. Some people also remain either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.

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