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07.03.2021 Feature Article

Those Aboard The Titanic… and an Exploration into Our Options

[Published in Business & Financial Times B&FT - 24 February 2021]
Those Aboard The Titanic… and an Exploration into Our Options
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Sleepless Nights

I’ll tell you the truth, I have had sleepless nights these past days after ‘W-Who Are You Calling Poor?’ and ‘Generational Clubs.’ I have been thinking about a spaceship.

Should the attempt at colonising Mars prove successful—either by Elon Musk’s or Jeff Bezos’ efforts, should humankind find means of moving to Mars, of leaving behind this fast-decaying earth, of some way, somehow beating Jesus to it, so that in His Second Coming, the Messiah should come to find the earth empty, this spaceship that humankind will use to transport itself to Mars, will I be on it? This should be your headache too because I have a strong feeling you won’t be either. Hear me out.

It did cross my mind, the fact that Elon Musk is actually African. I was happy for a minute—redemption would come for us, it seemed. So, my brothers and sisters, I started praying for Elon to be the one to win the Mars race. In fact, I was going to suggest this week that you join me in prayers; and my Catholic Church, I was going to ask to include this submission in our weekly Covid-19 Prayers “Almighty and merciful Father we come before you, asking that on our behalf, you ‘grease’ Musk’s elbows—and oil his palms that he be kind to us” or something to that effect. Then I remembered…

But America is fast-claiming him for themselves ooo, and he seems to be enjoying this poaching ooo. Unless of course, he is found to, heaven’s forbid, have committed an atrocious act, then the developed world would remember quickly that Elon’s nationality is actually South African. But that’s beside the point. The point is: Africa cannot fully depend on Elon—or the West for that matter.

So then it hit me: Africa will remain earthers as, off to the spaceship, developed countries go. My point here is that Jesus would, in this scenario, come and find Africa here patiently waiting. Having served as step stools for the Developed World to climb unto their spaceships, Africa will be left behind, waiting. Maybe this Judgement Day they have been talking about, is going to be for us only ooo.

We have a crucial decision to make though, regarding this step stools service—will it be women and children first? Let’s quickly decide now amongst ourselves, please.

Or will we have to exchange some of our people for the vaccines? (and yes it is contemplations over COVID vaccines that has gotten me to the subject of spaceships). So that those selected folks go live there—in Russia, China, Canada, USA, Britain, etc. Oh, I think that will work, don’t you? Kindly submit your names and contact details to me if you want to be considered for this role of scapegoats.

[FUN FACT: The name Marcia translated means “dedicated to Mars,” but it seems this will not be enough to save the writer.]

“By June de3…”

History has been made. This is the fastest vaccine development the world has ever seen—the Covid-19 vaccine. And it is not just one, but more than five, as it stands. Usually, it takes years upon years—decades, sometimes somewhere between 10 to 15 years to arrive at vaccines. But not this time around—giving room for people like Trump to bluff their way to truth. We will be getting a vaccine by the end of the year (2020), he said. Sceptics abounded; the writer included. So shame on us.

But we were right to doubt because, you see, technically these vaccine developers cheated. But we aren’t mad about it—we are very happy with this ‘cheating’. The world is riiiight on the brink of breathing freely again because of it.

They skipped the steps—that is how they did it. A typical vaccine be it for a viral, or bacterial disease, or sexually transmitted infection, has to go through series of stages—from their developments, to their testing and evaluations, to regulations. Each of these steps have within them sub-steps, all hurdles needing crossing before a vaccine can find its way into the public domain. Each of these stages are demanding of time, for they each seek life-saving answers to crucial questions; they each require patience, for their end products ought to be foolproof. After all, these end products are to be applied on humans.

Just about a century ago, the vaccine development process underwent standardisations to ensure that these doses promising protections, do deliver on their promises—because…have you ever heard of those individuals who, right at the inception of disasters, nose-dive intending for safety, but find themselves the only people dead at the end of the day—the fire was quenched, but a man had wantonly jumped out of the three-storey building into his death. Something similar happened to a tro-tro mate at the notorious Okponglo junction some five years ago. Poor boy thought the rickety vehicle he manned was headed for a crash, so he jumped off, leaving behind passengers from whom he had just finished collecting moneys, straight to his death, as the vehicle finally found its brakes and stopped. It’s not easy.

But that is the scenario an inefficient vaccine would present us all. Because vaccines, they inject you with the disease. To cure you, it has to first infect you. This makes sense right?

Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

When our immune system detects an invader, it launches into a self-defence mode—releases antibodies to fight the infection. This is the fact vaccines ride on. Vaccines are sheep in wolf’s clothing. They ‘invade’ your body in the guise of the disease for which it has been developed. The Covid-19 vaccine, enters your body, pretending to be the coronavirus itself. Your body is deceived. It then releases antibodies to fight this fake virus. After this fight comes immunity. Any subsequent Covid-19 invasion you face become to you nothing but a toothless bulldog. It is a fight your body has already fought and won—your body has developed immunity against it.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Whenever a new disease rears its head, as most of the rest of the world turn quickly to the heavens implicating, accusing the good Lord and His Son, as many chant “You see we told you the end is near,” teams upon teams of humans elsewhere are hunched over test tubes and science equipment busily studying said disease. And that is exactly what has ensued with Covid-19. Late-2019, when whispers about this coronavirus began circulating, when the rest of us were trying to wrap our heads around it, there were groups of people in lab coats, who had seen and attempted similar instances of this particular virus before. They had battled the SARS coronavirus in 2003, gained a whole lot of understanding into it, but had failed at the derivation of a vaccine to fight it. They had seen yet another one, MERS coronavirus in 2012, yet again, a deeper understanding of the virus was attained, but a vaccine—not so much. We had every reason to doubt that things would be any different for SARS-Cov-2 aka Covid-19. Win the battle: add to the stock of knowledge, but lose the war: fail at deriving a vaccine—that seemed to be the narrative. But we were wrong, you see.

This time around what ensued is a testament and argument for unrelenting basic research, and it is this: in less than a year, a vaccine has been derived for a disease. This, I repeat is revolutionary across the board. The polio vaccine for instance took over twenty years; Typhoid Fever, over two decades; Influenza, decades upon decades; the Measles vaccine, decades. It has been forty years since HIV/AIDS showed its head, no vaccine for it has been attained yet.

First: to fight the enemy you must understand the enemy

To defeat a foe, one ought to first, know the foe. And this is true for Covid-19. The first step of any vaccine quest involves voracious research. In fact, humankind is best advised to remain steadfast in basic research even if a particular threat at a particular moment does not seem imminent. Because knowledge is tentacled—knowledge on subject A almost always proves beneficial for subject B.

Each passing day, scientists all over the world are in laboratories, students to these infections, in this case this virus—coronavirus. This stage of research dubbed the ‘exploratory stage’ does not take a business week to complete, but years—singular-digit years for some diseases, decades for others.

In countries who have mattered to the world of research there have ensued similar realities. Realities contained in words like, but not limited to: ‘government-funded’, ‘state-backed’, ‘public/private partnerships’, ‘university research’, ‘university/industry collaborations’, ‘research institutions’ etc. Because to fight the enemy, you must not only understand it, but also have the resources (aka money) to beat it—the type of resources that elicits idioms such as ‘little drops of water make a mighty ocean.’ A mighty ocean of funds, scientific researches require, especially one as dire and urgent as Covid-19 a global pandemic wiping out lives by the day.

Scientists, with Covid-19 seemed, from the start, to be fighting an almost winnable war, for they had a wealth of painstakingly accumulated knowledge to tap from. So on that fateful December, 2019 when coronavirus proved to the world to be a real threat, an unassuming university professor in a ski mask, on vacation, upon receiving a text from a colleague, hollered a student of his, not for sexual dalliance as we have come to know to be quite typical, but for science—biology, you know, things like that (that’s not supposed to be a euphemism). And just like that, the University of Texas, led by this professor, Jason McLellan, became the first to produce a 3D molecular structure of Covid-19. Things began to unfold—the foe had a form scientists could study, to understand, and subsequently defeat.

Second: Bad Time to be a Mouse or Monkey

So let’s just say scientists are successful in the first stage: the exploratory stage. Now what? You test the vaccine you have developed, no? But who is to submit themselves for this? Come to think of it, after the Wright brothers invented the first airplane, who are those suicidal people who willingly submitted themselves for a ‘test-fly’?

Of course not, you do not go straight ahead to human testing—you try first, with animals—mice and monkeys are great contenders.

And this stage of testing, also takes a couple of years. And here answers to the questions … does the vaccine generate immune response? dosage? mode of administration? … are derived.

Third: Move on to Humans

Now begins human trials. Even at this point we do not launch into inoculating the entire world all at once. We kickstart with just a small group of people—usually not up to 100 individuals. This is Phase I Vaccine Trials. The intention is to determine the safety of the vaccine; the nature and degree of immunity the vaccine provides. Great feedback means progression to the next phase of testing.

Phase II Vaccine Trials begins. The test subjects become wider—hundreds of people. These tests are intended to provide answers on the safety, immunogenicity, dosage, delivery methods, etc. of the vaccine. Positive answers generated for this means a third phase is right at the corner.

Phase III Vaccine Trials, it is. We move on to an even larger group of people—comprising thousands. At this stage, all life-saving questions needing equally life-saving answers are asked. Does the vaccine actually work? Does it have potential side effects? etc. A positive response on all important inquiries means the vaccine is ready to be taken seriously. And then comes the nod…

Four: A ‘Yes’ and Paperwork to that Effect

To each country, their own authenticating bodies and processes. Even after licensure, these vaccines will continue under these certification institutions’ gazes—these institutions continue to monitor the vaccine production, its efficacy, and still ask the pre-licensing questions.

Here, again, we feel the indispensability of public involvement—a sort of public/private partnership still ensuing, even if said vaccine(s) was by some sheer resource-pooling prowess, undertaken solely by member(s) of the private sector. The government has to have in place an enabling legislative climate, political environment the makes such processes seamless for the developer. E.g. In the USA, the FDA is the umbrella body designate, the regulative and licensing authority. In the EU, the European Medicine Agency is the licensing and supervisory organisation. For a pandemic such as we have with Covid-19, the WHO has outlined “rigorous procedures” through which vaccines must go to receive authentications.

The ‘Cheaters’

All hands have been onboard in this vaccine search. Governments, industries, universities, health authorities, research institutions—public and private, philanthropies have been actively involved in the vaccine journey, directly and indirectly.

Enormous wealth and resources have been exerted and are still being exerted into the vaccine development process.

The many stages to vaccine developments have, this time around, been cramped up into a compact space of under one year. The many steps have been undertaken concurrently. After the exploratory stage, pre-clinical trials, Phase I to Phase III trials, manufacturing, approval, distribution, all have been cramped up into one bulk—done for the most part, concurrently.

A Big Brother Eye Still

There are a number of tracking and reporting, supervision, revisions, and recallings (if necessary) that take place even after approval has been given for these vaccines. Continuous tests are conducted on the vaccines even as they enter public domain, to fish out any fishy instances that dispute the initial conceived of efficacy of the vaccine. Better late than never, no?

These regulative eyes are very vital. After all, in the absence of proper regulations, didn’t we have a man named Pemberton sometime back in the 19th century create and patent what he claimed was medicine—a temperance medicine—that could cure a variety of ailments: impotence, indigestion, morphine addiction, nerve disorders just to name a few. Coca Cola, as we now know it, then containing cocaine, and now even without the cocaine, still one of the problematic soft drinks we have, was, without proper regulatory climate, sold by Pemberton as medicine.

Didn’t a man enter a tro-tro I was in once, claiming that the less-than-an-ounce cream he was holding could save everything from asthma to breast cancer, arthritis to elephantiasis. Also, he said the cream could ward off evil spirits, but that’s a topic for another.

A good number of people bought the cream—and that’s all I am going to say on the matter…

It was 2 Cedis, Fifty Pesewas—imagine it, with less than 3 Cedis, breast cancer was purportedly to be healed. And that’s really all I’m going to say on the matter…

I will say, finally, that with just 2 Cedis, Fifty Pesewas less, this man could have really given Jesus a run for His money…

Waiting is our Best Option

We see how a single journey towards a vaccine can last a lifetime. Typically, a young girl or boy would have started JHS, completed; moved on to SHS, completed; then to the university, completed; and maybe proceeded to do his/her NSS, finished; and perhaps, even gone on to gain employment or become a beneficiary of NABCO before a vaccine for a disease is, if we are lucky, finally arrived at.

You know what, let me stop here…what I have been trying to draw attention to is this: it takes a village to produce a vaccine.

Already a very capital-intensive venture, the long periods of time it takes to arrive at vaccines does not help matters—it does not bode well for a country’s or organisation’s pocket. Budding countries like ours have no option but to play the waiting game. Wait on promises of getting a vaccine soon—somewhere between March and June, the COVAX aid programme promises us. But neither March nor June is to provide us a nation-wide vaccination coverage—of course not. Not even a quarter of our population is to be covered by this May-June promise. But we have no option but to wait. We didn’t develop a vaccine; we do not have the purchasing power to cover our populations. A historically-fuelled retort like ‘reparations’ will, I must say, have to wait, as we ourselves wait—for the vaccines. The West cannot save us—yes, yes. But here we are, having as our only options, to wait for them—to come save the day. It is always easier said than done, is it not?

It takes a whole village to develop a vaccine—sadly, Ghana and most of the rest of the continent barely formed part of this busy vaccine-developing village. Ours was to hope and pray—to God for them—that their hands be quick in deriving a cure. And even now we are left to hope and pray still that their hands be loosened for Africa in this vaccine distribution.

And indeed, let us say Ghana has been successful in her prayers—because before us stands a number of vaccines approved. Alright already! Let’s just say it—Ghana was responsible for these Covid vaccines! Give us our share already!

3y3 asem ooo.