Slightly over a year has now passed since the parliamentary elections. Who would have thought last spring that discussions around the world would today be dominated by a single topic? The coronavirus epidemic and how countries are able to get back on their feet from the virus that has paralysed the entire world. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus as a global pandemic on 11 March 2020.
Many European countries appear to have now passed the peak of the pandemic’s first wave. But no one knows whether there will be a second or third wave and what the virus will look like then. Will it adapt and thereby become stronger, or weaker than in the first wave? The countries that have wanted to believe in achieving herd immunity are forced to re-think their approach because getting sick from the coronavirus may not, after all, protect you from getting sick again. There is still so much we don’t know. The entire world is holding its breath for a coronavirus vaccine or, at least, an effective medicine that can halt the progress and evolution of the virus more definitely.
According to the WHO, a total of 108 coronavirus vaccines were being developed in various parts of the world in early May. Eight of them had moved forward to human tests. Finland should take part in international vaccine development efforts, and in March it duly allocates five million euros of its budget to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the International Vaccine Institute (IVI). It’s good to bear in mind that developing a vaccine typically takes at least a year and, once an effective, safe and distributable coronavirus vaccine is ready, it will fly off the shelves at what will probably be a high price. The first group of countries to get their hands on the vaccine will all but surely include those that contributed the most to its development.
Because of global demand, we should press on also with our own development projects. It is also a question of self-sufficiency and security of supply. Two vaccine development projects were underway in Finland in early May, but neither of them was listed by the WHO.
The development work requires money, and so it is good that the Academy of Finland and various foundations have opened application periods for funding for coronavirus-related research projects. Also needed is funding for clinical medical research. State research funding (VTR) has declined from 90 million to slightly over 20 million euros over the past 20 years. We have to reverse that trend.
In Finland, one of the challenges of vaccine development is that the research efforts are scattered across various parties. What we need is a broad-based group tasked with co-ordinating the efforts of universities, hospitals, basic health care, funding institutions, the pharmaceutical industry, and other private and third-sector operators. This way, our broad expertise could be better utilised.
The coronavirus has also provoked debate about the need to secure pharmaceutical self-sufficiency and the functioning of logistics chains by bringing more pharmaceutical and vaccine production from India and China to Europe. Vaccines used to be produced also in Finland, but the production was shut down as too expensive in the early 2000s. It could be worthwhile to re-start it to solidify our self-sufficiency. Whatever the case, we have to re-shape our security of supply and how we have prepared for crises in recent years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Helsinki Times: 15.6.2020