By Patrick Katagata,
Secretary – Strategic Scientific Advisory Council and Thinktank,
STI Secretariat – Office of The President.
Further to, “Not everyone does science, let alone, excellently”, a statement I made in my previous article about STI being a key driver for Socio-economic transformation, thankfully published here, I would now like to stress a few more positions in view of the headline to this article:
- However highly gifted scientists may be, they cannot produce safe innovations—especially those meant for human and animal health such as vaccines, drugs, and therapeutics, without observing strict processes and procedures;
- From time to time, there will be conspiracy theories, suspicions, and claims regarding STI doers’ motives, security concerns that might accrue, efficacy or the lack thereof of products at hand, and accountability for resources—especially those having monetary value, inter-alia, invested in the churning out of given innovations;
- Lest conspiracies turn out adversely true, STI doers be unnecessarily misconstrued to be unscrupulous, or out of wanton ignorance, politically-motivated malice, policymakers frustrate STI development and deployment, yet it is, in modern society, indispensable in the socio-economic transformation quest, scientists, policymakers, national security handlers—and other relevant stakeholders, need to form a symbiotic functional synergy to reap from STI.
The media in Uganda has in recent days been awash with controversy between some policymakers and scientists. The former sought to establish whether or not the latter, associated with the Presidential Initiative on Diseases and Epidemics (PRESIDE), duped the President when they reportedly promised him that they would work towards producing a COVID-19 Vaccine, which two years after the pandemic subsided, has not come through! In one of the Accountability queries before the [Parliamentary] Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the scientists attempted without much success, to explain to the policymakers that producing a vaccine needed, at the furthest extension, fifteen years. The media picked it up and it attracted undue mockery.
Vaccines, to be really safe and effective, cannot miraculously produced in a haste. Never, except, of course, if there is existing infrastructure and human capital to build upon. Vaccine candidates must undergo all requisite clinical trials, without flouting any manufacturing process. To this effect, an excerpt from an Abstract by Dr. Jennifer Pancorbo, PhD, posits, “Developing a new vaccine from scratch takes considerable time. It depends a lot on how much information is available about the disease itself, how the disease infects people and spreads, and so on. But it traditionally has taken 5-10 years to get a new vaccine.” Dr. Jennifer Pancorbo is the Director of Industry Programs and Research at the North Carolina (USA) based Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC).
Unlike other countries such as America which had already built internal capacity—both infrastructure and Human Capital, and easily leveraged on these when COVID-19 broke out, Uganda, was highly unlikely to produce COVID-19 Vaccines before the pandemic subsided. For instance, America quickly came up with COVID-19 Vaccines because it had previously produced one for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which, although different from COVID-19, is also part of the coronavirus family, stemming from a different coronavirus strain—SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1. Therefore, SARS and COVID-19 being in the same coronavirus family, and with existing infrastructure and human capital previously employed to curb SARS, it was easier for America to build upon existing resources and quickly churn out COVID-19 Vaccines unlike Uganda and other nations that had to build from scratch!
In the aforesaid policymakers versus scientists’ stand-off, the latter assured the former that they had embraced the COVID-19 onslaught, given delayed vaccine supplies, and vaccine apartheid, as an eye-opener for Uganda to embark on Research and Development (R&D), and build internal capacity—infrastructure and human capital, to avert future epidemics. So far so good!
Finally, without stern security masterly, a country’s defence system is incomplete and vulnerable, and socio-economic gains at risk of ruin.