Vaccine development is a mustGood news came from Moderna, an American biotechnology company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after it received meaningful results from a clinical test for a vaccine to fight the new coronavirus. It was found that antibodies were successfully created among all of the volunteers in the test. As expectations for an early development of a vaccine grow, stock markets in the United States and Korea have both surged.
Yet it is too early to have optimism. Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s bold goal to develop a coronavirus vaccine within the year, most medical experts showed a prudent reaction because the positive results from Moderna are only the beginning of a long journey to discover an effective vaccine for Covid-19. Given the remarks by Jerome Kim, secretary general of the International Vaccine Institute in Seoul, it costs a maximum $1.5 billion — and five to 10 years — to develop any effective vaccines for humankind.
That can explain why each nation competitively allocates a huge government budget to win the race for vaccine development. In an urgent operation, the United States is pushing a joint project involving the government, military and pharmaceutical companies. Chinese President Xi Jinping has mobilized national corporations and the People’s Army to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. In Europe, there are growing calls for increasing government subsidies for the private sector. The reason is clear: to win the war for vaccine hegemony. Once a country gets it, it can use the power as a strong leverage in diplomacy and trade.
The question is where Korea stands in the battle. In an online keynote speech at the World Health Assembly hosted by the World Health Organization on Monday, President Moon Jae-in stressed the need for the international community to cooperate across borders to develop drugs and vaccines for Covid-19. His remarks owe a lot to Korea’s successful combatting of the pandemic. But they should be backed by accomplishments in developing cures and vaccines for the novel virus.
Korea has joined the international front to develop them, as seen in its support for pharmaceutical companies and its aggressive move to discover treatments and vaccines for Covid-19. But Korea is lagging far behind other advanced countries because it is still conducting a clinical test for animals while advanced countries have launched clinical tests on humans. Developing test kits, for which Korea received praise from the rest of the world, is an issue entirely different from developing vaccines.
The Moon Jae-in administration plans to divert some of the 11.9 billion won ($9.7 million) budget earmarked to set up a joint task force for the battle against Covid-19 to vaccine development. Moderna received $500 million in aid from Washington. Our government must increase its investment in local pharmaceutical companies before it is too late.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 20, Page 30