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'A great step forward': Christian Medical Fellowship celebrates new Covid-19 vaccine

by Will Maule

The Christian Medical Fellowship has welcomed the announcement of a newly developed vaccine which early research suggests could have a 90 per cent success rate against Covid-19.

CMF's chief executive Dr Mark Pickering told Premier that the development was "really positive."

"There's a long way to go yet," he warned. "But this is a great step forward." 

The vaccine, developed by pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and BioNTech, has been tested on 43,500 people in six different countries without raising any safety concerns.

Pickering added that a 90 per cent efficacy rate was pretty good, considering the flu vaccine is only "between 70 and 80% effective each year."

"It's going to make a big difference," he said. "But you still have to be careful about your exposure to it. So people need to be not getting too relaxed about the usual social distancing stuff." 

Pickering said a key question that still looms over the vaccine is how long it grants immunity to the receiver. "In a trial situation like this, it's clear that that the vaccine has prevented 90 per cent of people from getting the virus who would have otherwise got it," he said. "But we don't know whether that lasts for six months, for a year for three years."

The medic suggested that the Covid vaccine "may be like the flu have to do a new one every year."

On the timeline of when the vaccine could be rolled out across the world, Pickering said he doubted we would see it before the end of the year, once the logistical challenges have been ironed out. 

"We'll probably see something in the first quarter of next year," he explained. "Clearly it's in everyone's best interests to get this process as slick as possible. But then the next question is, once it's got the approval, how do you get it out to enough people? I see from this one you have to store it at minus 80 degrees. And that's pretty hardcore logistics.

"So you can't just put it in a standard refrigerated box and take it. How's that going to get to people in Sub Saharan Africa? 

"Clearly, the World Health Organisation will be doing all its all it can to spread that. But then, very often, the next ethical question is how do you distribute it in a fair manner?"

Ethical development

Following the launch of multiple vaccine development projects across the world, one key ethical question surrounding the work has been in relation to research teams utilising cell lines from aborted foetuses. A leading vaccine project at Oxford University, for example, adopted such a method, prompting a series of questions from church leaders in Australia when the Government put several million prospective doses of the vaccine on order. 

"Any Covid-19 vaccine cultured on a foetal cell line will raise serious issues of conscience for a proportion of our population," the leaders from the Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches wrote in the August letter.

The Pfizer vaccine, however, does not utilise foetal cell lines.

The RNA-produced virus does not have that ethical problem because it's just producing the protein straight off, so we can be we can be happy that this is not an ethical issue that's relevant to this faxing," Pickering explained. 

Pickering said we should be thankful to God for such a significant progression, and used people to pray for the ethical side of the vaccine development and against a sense of "virus nationalism."

"We can give thanks to God for medical technology. Time and time again, we've seen incredible ingenuity and ways that God has designed the world so that we can actually, improve disease and produce this kind of thing as a great thing to be thankful for," Pickering explained. "I think we need to really be praying for the ethics of the process so that people won't cut corners on safety. Everyone's racing to get this, there will be a temptation [to cut corners], they're real human people in there." 

Pickering also said that a primary concern must be "getting [the] vaccine out to people who really need it."

"You know, the elderly, the infirm," he said. "We don't just want this going to rich people and company leaders in rich countries who can afford to pay for this expensive private vaccine. We want it to get out to the right people, that are most clinically vulnerable and that have the highest clinical needs."

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