Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 6 August 2020

Volunteers are indispensable to vaccine discovery

Some 5,000 people enlisted for the UAE's last-phase clinical trial and we are all in their debt

A health worker holds a sample of a potential Covid-19 vaccine at a Sinopharm production plant. AP
A health worker holds a sample of a potential Covid-19 vaccine at a Sinopharm production plant. AP

Volunteers across the world who participate in controlled medical experiments – that aim to find cures and root out disease – value human life. They prioritise public good over concerns about the risks, however small, to their own health.

In Abu Dhabi, the first globally recognised, last-phase clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine, that involves the participation of 15,000 volunteers, has begun.

Phase-III clinical trials typically happen after a drug proves to be effective on a small number of people.

But half a year into the pandemic, with 14 million cases of the virus and 600,000 dead, timetables for clinical trials are being compressed as the world needs, more than anything, a vaccine to stop the ravages of Covid-19.

Usually Phase-III clinical trials can take years but for this vaccine, the medical community is looking at a period of mere months.

Given that the UAE has been a model of testing efficacy, with over 4.18 million tests done, the country's clinical trials evoke a sense of optimism.

Clinical trials for two Covid-19 vaccines are under way in the UAE and the volunteers, crucial to this mammoth task, are set to take the shots, as The National has reported. Already, since Thursday when registrations for the trial opened, 5,000 people living in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain signed up in the first 24 hours. Working with a Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm, the UAE will now test two vaccine strains and a placebo.

It shows deep commitment on the part of volunteers to first sign up, meet the medical requirements, be injected with one or a combination of possible vaccines and placebos, be constantly monitored and also keep a vaccine journal for a year to record symptoms. As with trials for other diseases conquered in the past, the race to find a cure for Covid-19 depends greatly on the volunteers who further such crucial vaccine research.

Given that the UAE has been a model of testing efficacy, with over 4.18 million tests done, the country's clinical trials evoke a sense of optimism

For Covid-19, the World Health Organisation says human trials have begun on 23 potential vaccines worldwide, which by even a modest estimate, puts the global number of volunteers in the high thousands.

Here in the UAE, we have seen this spirit of volunteering before. Over the past couple of months, close to 19,000 citizens and residents raised their hands and gave at least six hours of their time each week to help out in containing the pandemic.

The UAE has the great advantage of a diverse population, with people residing here from more than 200 countries. That genetic diversity of volunteers will help research. And even though we may not actually see the vaccine by 2021, to be well on track is a sign of remarkable progress and it will help the country be prepared for future pandemics.

The world will heave a cumulative sigh of relief when a vaccine is eventually ready, and enough quantities are manufactured to be shipped to every remote town and village in the world. When that day comes, it could mean, to a large extent, being able to resume living as we used to.

To this end, the 5000 volunteers who have signed up and the others who will surely follow, deserve our continual gratitude and respect – and not just in hindsight when the trials are deemed a success and countless lives are saved.

Updated: July 18, 2020 06:38 PM

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