19 Jun 2020

After the Virus: Health

From After the Virus, 7:00 am on 19 June 2020

A vaccine is not an easy answer to the Covid-19 crisis, warns a leading academic, and we may need to adjust our behaviour to learn to live with the virus.


Professor Papaarangi Reid, Tumuaki and Head of Department of Māori Health at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, was talking to RNZ’s Guyon Espiner in the podcast After the Virus, which hosts discussions with New Zealand and international experts about the post-pandemic world.

Professor Reid said she was hopeful about the development of a vaccine but cautioned against relying solely upon it, citing concerns around timely and equitable access.

 ‘In Māori terms, it (the Covid-19 virus) is a ngārara, something from the natural world and we do have to learn to live with,’ said Professor Reid. ‘We do have to correct ourselves to learn to live with something that’s unpleasant.

‘I am concerned that we are pinning our hopes that a vaccine is going to come charging over the horizon any minute now. And I’m not quite holding my breath on that.’

Professor Reid was joined in the podcast by Dr David Nabbaro, WHO’s special envoy for Covid-19, and former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Calling herself a worried optimist, Clark agreed with concerns around the equity of distribution and allocation of a vaccine, arguing that any Covid-19 vaccine needs to be free to everyone. In May Clark joined 140 world leaders in signing a letter calling for all Covid-19 testing, treatment and any vaccine to be made free and patent-free to all. She cited the example of Dr Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine but did not patent it.

‘That’s the spirit and ethos we need now. The thought that only rich people in rich countries would get access to something that is literally lifesaving and serious disease -preventing is just abhorrent to me’

David Nabarro rejected President Trump’s criticism of WHOs response to Covid-19. He said in dealing with a problem of the magnitude and complexity of the Covid-19 virus, public health specialists around the world need to work together collectively with respect and trust to benefit everyone.

‘There isn’t a universal playbook of how different nations can actually help their people to deal with the constant threat of this virus, which is not going to go away.’

Nabarro, who was a special envoy of the UN Secretary General on ebola in 2014 and oversaw the UN response to cholera in Haiti in 2016, said this is what WHO was created to do and that it is working better now than ever before.

‘It remains rather surprising to all of us that the head of one member state, out of the 194, should declare that he believes the organisation has failed.’

Helen Clark said when the full review of WHO’s response is done, questions about the organisation’s effectiveness and speed in addressing Covid-19 can be then be asked.

‘But that’s not in the middle of when you are fighting the fire.’

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