The world is racing towards a Covid-19 vaccine; and amidst the wait there has been so many twists and turns; albeit science clashing with politics in some instances. All the while scientists have been saved by their phlegmatic approach to issues hence neutralizing the somehow polemical politicians.
According to NBC News via their Covid-19 Vaccine Watch, by end of this week there were 139 vaccines in development; and 28 vaccines in human trials. The world is hoping and waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine and treatment breakthroughs. These statistics are all in the backdrop of a Russian ‘breakthrough’ which has attracted criticism from rivals in the political and scientific world.
The world has already seen the twists and turns of remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, favipiravir, and others. There was another potentially dangerous hypothesis that raised eyebrows and drew outright hostility in some quarters – that claimed nicotine could potentially play a role in treating COVID-19!
Back home in the capital Gaborone, the Acting Coordinator of the Covid-19 Task Team, Professor Mosepele Mosepele announced on national broadcaster, BTV that they have a new definition of ‘Recovery’ for Covid-19 patients. Patients who have been with the virus for over 10 days and are certified by a medical professional to be well shall be deemed a ‘Recovery’. This is in line with the latest WHO standards, he said.
Pliable as they are, to WHO protocols, Botswana’s Covid-19 Task Team has not been excited by the plethora of covid-19 remedies being brandished wishy washy style in the global arena. They were not inch moved by Madagascar’s herbal concoction hailed by that country’s president. In any case the hype around the concoction dissipated within a matter of days.
Meanwhile as the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom assembled over 200 scientists on Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine research team and came up with an Oxford candidate vaccine, called AZD1222; the University of Botswana was also taking a shot at local herbal plants to see if they could not sum up a Covid-19 remedy. At Oxford, AZD1222 seems to have no serious side effects and triggered an immune response among over 1,000 people involved in the trials. However, there is still a long way to go before the vaccine can be declared ready for widespread usage.
AZD1222 is one of several potential COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world. Batswana are still waiting for the latest report from University of Botswana scientists as far as the research on Covid-19 remedy is concerned.
Scientists are using four platforms to generate monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein: human antibody phage display; immunized human antibody transgenic mice; antibodies isolated from the blood of people who have recovered from infection; and computational structure-based antibody design.
In parallel to work on antibodies, scientists are using all of their expertise in medicinal chemistry and chemical assets to find small molecule inhibitors. In some parts of the world they are screening their entire molecular library of more than one million compounds to identify those with potential activity to treat COVID-19.
They are using computational screening to speedily search this huge resource, starting with two priority viral targets: SARS-CoV-2 main protease and SARS-CoV-2 papain-like protease. The expertise they have built in artificial intelligence-aided optimization of drug candidates will speed their path, they say.
Russia blows own BIG trumpet
Russia’s Vladmir Putin has been blowing his own trumpet lately. His social media platforms were pregnant with enthusiastically worded self-approvals of a vaccine that has been developed in Russia and was about to be released to the public. In fact his daughter has already received the first dosage of the vaccine.
Reports indicate that initial batches of Russia’s coronavirus vaccine will roll off production lines within as soon as two weeks. The plan is to immunize doctors before going to the general public, the country’s health minister said Wednesday. Vaccine production in Russia will be domestic-oriented, geared to covering internal demands, Mikhail Murashko said at a news conference in Moscow giving additional details about the much-anticipated vaccine.
Meanwhile, the Russian Fund of Direct Investment (RDIF) is negotiating the production of the vaccine abroad. Asked about safety, Alexander Gintsburg, head of the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology – which developed the pioneering vaccine – said the vaccine is based on a well-researched scientific platform dating back decades.
“The platform has been in development for 25 years for the purpose of gene therapy, but at the end of 2014 it was used to create drugs to fight the most rapidly changing viruses,” he said. Meanwhile Russia has dismissed mounting international concern over the safety of its locally developed Covid-19 vaccine as “absolutely groundless”.
On Tuesday, it said a vaccine had been given regulatory approval after less than two months of testing on humans. But experts were quick to raise concerns about the speed of Russia’s work, and a growing list of countries have expressed scepticism. Scientists in Germany, France, Spain and the US have all urged caution.
“It seems our foreign colleagues are sensing the specific competitive advantages of the Russian drug and are trying to express opinions that… are absolutely groundless,” Russia’s Health Minister Mikhail Murashko told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
Trump trumpeted hydroxychloroquine
In late March and early April, American President, Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed that hydroxychloroquine could prevent or treat COVID-19. Reports from the USA show that within days, the number of prescriptions for the drug skyrocketed even though evidence it could safely prevent or treat the disease was at the time very weak.
“A casual remark by a president who is not in any way a medical expert somehow led thousands of U.S. physicians to write prescriptions for a drug that had never before been used to treat a viral illness.” On March 21 President Trump touted hydroxychloroquine – and its biochemical cousin, chloroquine – as potential “game changers” in the battle against COVID-19. Two months later, he announced on national television that he had been taking the drug himself as a preventative treatment.
Statistics shared from America indicate that during the 10-week period between Feb. 17 and April 27 doctors wrote approximately 483,000 more prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine than in the same time period in 2019. The week after President Trump mentioned the drug during a press conference, prescriptions were up more than 200% compared to the previous year.
“The vast majority of excess prescriptions were written between March 14 and April 4, but as news spread about shortages of the drug and the lack of evidence to support its use, prescribing returned quickly to normal,” reports one of the news hubs based in the USA.
“Research now shows that this once-promising drug likel isn’t effective for preventing or treating COVID 19, but the damage was already done. Hundreds of thousands of Americans unnecessarily took medicine that can have dangerous side effects. Additionally, many people with an actual medical need to take hydroxychloroquine – like those living with lupus and related autoimmune diseases – found themselves unable to obtain the drugs they needed.” In Botswana, thanks to the sagacious Covid-19 Task Team, Batswana stayed away from the politically charged blanket prescription.
Amid all these twists and turns, Botswana has kept it simple, the World Health Organisation (WHO) remains the template. This is notwithstanding the political gymnastics playing out here at home, occasionally giving accretion to social media misinformation; and acerbity in political speeches.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) has indicated concern about the ongoing trend where the general public falls victim to criminals purporting to be police officers.
According to BPS Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, the criminals target individuals at shopping malls and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) where upon approaching the unsuspecting individual the criminals would pretend to have picked a substantial amount of money and they would make a proposal to the victims that the money is counted and shared in an isolated place.
“On the way, as they stop at the isolated place, they would start to count and sharing of the money, a criminal syndicate claiming to be Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer investigating a case of stolen money will approach them,” said Motube in a statement.
The Commissioner indicated that the fake police officers would instruct the victims to hand over all the cash they have in their possession, including bank cards and Personal Identification Number (PIN), the perpetrators would then proceed to withdraw money from the victim’s bank account.
Motube also revealed that they are also investigating a case in which a 69 year old Motswana woman from Molepolole- who is a victim of the scam- lost over P62 000 last week Friday to the said perpetrators.
“The Criminal syndicate introduced themselves as CID officers investigating a case of robbery where a man accompanying the woman was the suspect.’’
They subsequently went to the woman’s place and took cash amounting to over P12 000 and further swindled amount of P50 000 from the woman’s bank account under the pretext of the further investigations.
In addition, Motube said they are currently investigating the matter and therefore warned the public to be vigilant of such characters and further reminds the public that no police officer would ask for bank cards and PINs during the investigations.
Botswana Congress Party (BCP) leadership walked out of Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this week on account of being targeted by other cooperating partners.
UDC meet for the first time since 2020 after previous futile attempts, but the meeting turned into a circus after other members of the executive pushed for BCP to explain its role in media statements that disparate either UDC and/or contracting parties.
The Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crimes (DCEC), Tymon Katlholo’s spirited fight against the contentious transfers of his management team has forced the Office of the President to rescind the controversial decision. However, some insiders suggest that the reversal of the transfers may have left some interested parties with bruised egos and nursing red wounds.
The transfers were seen by observers as a badly calculated move to emasculate the DCEC which is seen as defiant against certain objectionable objectives by certain law enforcement agencies – who are proven decisionists with very little regard for the law and principle.