WHILE acknowledging that a COVID-19 vaccine could be developed in another year, Dr Tomlin Paul, dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at The University of the West Indies, Mona, is warning against abandoning the practice of physical distancing as there could be a “second wave” of the disease.
“It took us five years to get a vaccine for Ebola. We are optimistic about COVID-19 — research is well under way and I think we can find, within a year, something that is safe… The challenge with saying how long before we are safe is that, as we contain the outbreak through social distancing — yes, we can get containment and reduction in the cases, and we can get to a point where we say, ‘Hey, things are under control,’ but at that point you still have a lot of persons who have not gotten the disease who are vulnerable to exposure, and so we have the concept of a second wave,” Dr Paul, who is also a family medicine physician, cautioned.
According to the health care practitioner, the 1918 Spanish flu had three waves.
“So the question of, at what point… should we reduce the social distancing — because as we reduce we become vulnerable again — I would say we are looking for another year or so before we have a comfort point, at which point the disease gets endemic like the flu… It will be quite some time before we get back to normal,” he pointed out.
Dr Paul was speaking at a recent forum hosted by the Caribbean Sociological Association to, among other things, examine the fallout occasioned by the pandemic.
In the meantime, the faculty head said already the country’s health services would have learnt some lessons from the COVID-19 experience.
“What the health services recognise is that our capacity is limited. We don’t have enough ventilators, et cetera. But to get some level of management at the health service level, we have to go to the health system and the public health system, and we have to go to the people.
“The sociology and the behaviour become critical because all these things, social distancing, et cetera, if it works, actually helps the health service to manage the thing better,” he stated.
“We tend to think disease and infection, and we tend to think medicine and injection, but this response that is called for is very much a behavioural one, it is a psychological one, it is not an injection, at this point in time, that will fix this,” Dr Paul added.
Responding to concerns about Jamaica’s dependency on imports as well as the implications for research in the Caribbean, he said: “I think we have a role to play. Some of our researchers here at the university are involved in an international research drive to do trials and vaccines and so, but we have a lot of indigenous materials and plants and resources that we need to look at to see how it can impact on COVID-19.
“Certainly, I think we need to plan going forward, to improve our resiliency, because that is a challenge… And given that there might be a second wave coming, we can’t be too complacent and say we fixed it, everything is fine, after a certain time. We always need to be looking ahead,” he added.
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