As Health Care Systems reach Breaking Point UG Alum Vidia Roopchand Provides Clues: Take the VaccineRead Now
As the coronavirus continues to take its toll on health and welfare globally GOFAD, this week focuses on the situation in the Caribbean and a fascinating and informative presentation by Mr. Vidia Roopchand, UG Alumnus and lead COVID 19 Vaccine Researcher at Pfizer.
The seriousness of the situation in the Caribbean Region, is best illustrated by recent decisions taken by the political, education and health authorities in the English, French and Spanish Speaking Caribbean to postpone the start of the school year which is normally scheduled for the first two weeks of September. In view of the rising number of positive cases, the governments of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have imposed lock downs and the doctors and nurses in Guyana have initiated strikes and sickouts against government mandates for the vaccination of health workers. In preceding blogs, we referred to the suggested results of "nudges" combined with mandates as policies to combat vaccine hesitancy which contributes to much of the problem. In the CARICOM Member states, vaccine hesitancy is compounded by the lack of adequate supply, conflicting information and in some cases unscientific and fake news. The stark reality is demonstrated in the official figures which reveal the dramatic health situation in the French Caribbean (Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Martin) in proximity to the Eastern Caribbean states, with COVID deaths ranging from between 108-120 per 100,000. Suriname with 121 per 100,000 being the worst case scenario for CARICOM, while Guyana (71); St Lucia (56); Jamaica (51); Barbados (49) and Antigua and Barbuda (45) are indicative of the challenges that are being presented. At the same time, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (the CDC of the Caribbean) has illustrated that vaccination take in the region is relatively low. This partly due to lack of access and availability. Through the Caribbean Regulatory System (CRS), CARPHA apples its verification of vaccines safety based on the authorization for emergency use by the World Health Organization (WHO). While countries are at liberty to undertake their own assessments of the quality, efficacy and safety of vaccines, it is understandable how vaccine hesitancy can be sustained especially in cases where vaccines are not duly authorized.
It is under these circumstances that the University of Guyana hosted a virtual seminar on August 27th on virology and the COVID Vaccines. It was presented by Mr. Vidia Roopchand, Principal Scientist for Vaccine Research and Development at Pfizer. He has been with the company for 28 years and spent his career supporting the efforts of the research and development team in formulating innovative vaccines especially for immunization of children in Africa and including the research to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. He was particularly high in praise for the high quality of Education he received at the University of Guyana, graduating with a degree in Chemistry which was the solid foundation for his professional development.
The Fundamentals of Mr. Roopchand's Presentation: This is a Great Time to Learn
Mr. Roopchand's presentation illustrated how it was possible for Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies to develop the respective COVID-19 vaccines. The ability to fast-track research and clinical trials for example, was a direct result of the worldwide cooperation as the researchers quickly mobilized to share their coronavirus data with other scientists; made
advances in genomic sequencing based on previous results of researchers that successfully uncovered the viral sequence of SARS-CoV-2. Fast tracking was also facilitated by numerous previous studies done since the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa (2014). As a result, WHO prioritized 11 pathogens most likely to cause severe outbreaks in the near future. In addition, research findings on Hemorrhagic Fever, Chikungunya, Zika and respiratory syndrome coronavirus, all combined and contributed to the quick turnaround of results with respect to COVID -19. See The Lancet Global Health Trusted Source.
In the U.S., Operation warp Speed (OWS) was responsible for fostering partnerships with multiple institutions including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to develop, manufacture, and distribute 300 million doses of vaccines. By investing in multiple companies and vaccine platforms at once, OWS increased the odds of having a vaccine, or vaccines, available by the beginning of 2021. Simultaneously, The European Commission also funded several vaccine candidates and worked with others in pledging $8 billion for COVID-19 research. The UK government Vaccine Taskforce was a significant contributor to a wide variety of vaccine research. Its funding helped develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the designers of this vaccine were the first to publish peer reviewed efficacy results.
Mr. Roopchand provided a glimpse into the future of vaccine research. He describes himself as a "vaccine farmer", stating categorically, “I’m from the developing world and I’ve seen what infectious disease can do.” He proposes to continue dissecting the data, to try and find other indicators of effective defenses. He indicated that this involves a greater understanding of T cells produced by the immune system to destroy virus-infected cells, and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC). This is, a specific immune response whereby a cell is covered in antibodies then destroyed by white blood cells, have largely been neglected in immunology research and may play a significant role. His optimism is illustrated in a response to a question raised by Dr. Ulric Trotz, one of his former UG Chemistry lecturers to whom he gives credit of his scientific beginnings. “This is a great time to learn.”
An appreciation to Mr. Roopchand given during the proceedings is worth quoting :
“ we salute you , grateful that you grace us with your wonderful presence and your bountiful gifts as a scientist with roots that are riveted in the University of Guyana; mindful that you help to shine a light so brightly on the University. You are an exemplar of the fact that UG is the highest and most recognized institution of higher education in Guyana and the reason why we can aspire to be a world class university. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the University in 2023, we look to you and others of your ilk to help to continue to forge partnerships, to attract endowments, to build a residential cadre of future graduates who aspire to your achievements but always remembering that we must help to build an institution that reaches back into the community, and whose research, teaching and practice must continue to inspire young Guyanese and young people from this region to make meaningful contributions; and like you, make the world your stage for transformative change.
As we salute Vidia Roopchand, it is to be hoped that the lessons he presents and a multitude of suggested remedies that have emerged would help to inspire actions at the level of CARICOM where CARPHA, in this field, continues to play a vital role. Especially aware of the upsurge in several variants and the evidence that the majority of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are increasingly among the unvaccinated, there is need for adherence to the following among others:
In the final analysis, all creditable reports and scientific recommendations point in the directions that taking the COVID -19 vaccination is the best insurance against hospitalization and death.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.