Malaysian virologist Lam Sai Kit (L) receives an interview in the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 29, 2020. (Xinhua/Zhu Wei)
KUALA LUMPUR, July 31 (Xinhua) -- Countries around the world should practice "internationalism" when facing a pandemic like COVID-19, including providing universal access when effective vaccines are available, a virologist said.
Lam Sai Kit, an emeritus professor at the University of Malaya and a prominent infectious disease expert, commended China's progress in developing a vaccine and its pledge to make China's vaccine a "global public good."
In a recent interview with Xinhua, the expert refuted conspiracy theories on the origin of the outbreak, stressing the importance of separating science from politics.
VACCINE DEVELOPMENT "PROMISING"
Lam, 82, has been involved in the study and handling of emerging virus infections throughout his long career spanning nearly five decades, including the Chikungunya and the Nipah virus outbreaks in Malaysia.
He described the novel coronavirus as "very nasty and vicious," being able to attack so many organs, which would require effective vaccines to be used to eventually control the pandemic by building up herd immunity.
During his career, Lam has also participated in the development of vaccines, including on dengue and rotavirus, and has been watching closely the race for COVID-19 vaccines.
"I'm particularly glad that there's so much move towards developing a vaccine against COVID-19," he said, noting several vaccine candidates developed by China which are entering phase 3 clinical trials.
At least 24 COVID-19 candidate vaccines are in clinical evaluation globally, and another 142 in preclinical evaluation, according to data released by the World Health Organization earlier in July.
Chinese experts said in a study published recently in the medical journal The Lancet that a phase 2 trial of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate has found that the vaccine is safe and induces an immune response.
Lam believes the prospect of a successful vaccine is "very promising," but expressed concern over whether the vast population could have access.
"What I'm seeing now is very promising, that the various approaches are being made towards the production of a vaccine that could be applied universally. I am pretty sure that one or more of these vaccines will become available maybe in the next year or so," he said.
"My concern is whether there will be enough of the vaccine for global use. As you can see some of the developed countries who can afford it are already cornering the market by buying up vaccines or ordering vaccines ahead of time," he said.
Lam spoke highly of China's promise to make its vaccine "global public goods" and China's ability to step up production to make it widely available.
"What is left for other countries like Malaysia? Fortunately, China has pledged that part of the vaccines that they produce will be used to help such countries and I'm particularly happy about it. China is able to step up the production," he said.
China has pledged that when a COVID-19 vaccine is successfully developed and put to use in China, it will be shared with the world as a global public good to ensure vaccine accessibility and affordability, especially in developing countries.
CALLING FOR INTERNATIONALISM
For Lam, international cooperation during a pandemic is essential, as the virus knows no borders.
"I think for pandemics, it is very important to practice what I call internationalism," he said. "There is no border. People work across borders and help each other to prevent the spread from one country to another."
Lam praised China's role in the global fight against COVID-19 by providing essential supplies and sharing experiences.
"I think it's very commendable that China has been helping other countries in the fight against pandemics. There are many developing countries, third world countries, that require this sort of help," he said.
"China has done an excellent job by sending its experts to many countries including Malaysia, sending medical supplies, ventilators, sanitizers, to these countries that are very much in need."
China's success in containing the outbreak domestically also shows that much could be done with public health measures before effective vaccines are available, such as wearing face masks and keeping social distancing and hand hygiene, the expert noted.
It was "unfortunate" that in certain countries such measures like wearing a face mask were not followed and led to worsening situations, he added.
More than 17 million COVID-19 cases are reported globally as of Friday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
SEPARATE SCIENCE FROM POLITICS
In February, Lam joined over a dozen of scientists around the world to issue a statement published on the website of the medical journal The Lancet to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that the novel coronavirus does not have a natural origin.
"A group of us scientists were very unhappy with the conspiracy theory because it didn't quite meet the standard of good science you know and there was no evidence base that we could see," Lam told Xinhua.
He stood by his position that the novel coronavirus had a natural origin.
"With the advent of molecular techniques and technology, it is possible to know whether the SARS-CoV-2 is actually man-made or from a natural host. And there is absolutely no evidence, there's no footprint in the nucleic acid of the coronavirus to show that it is man-made."
Lam has played a central role in the discovery of the Nipah virus during the 1998-1999 outbreak in Malaysia. Based on his previous experiences, Lam said allegations that China failed to warn the world early enough about the outbreak do not hold water.
"When they criticize China for not telling the world early enough about this COVID-19, I think it was wrong. I have gone through the whole thing. It took us three weeks before we announced the Nipah virus as the new virus causing a new disease. It's very important to be sure what you're going to tell the world. You cannot rush in a pandemic and then tell something and then later retract."
Spreading between people and from other animals to people, the Nipah virus causes fever, shortness of breath, brain inflammation and seizures.
While finding out the origin of the virus remains important, it should be done at an appropriate time that would not distract from efforts to contain the outbreak, and should not be politicized, said Lam.
"I think it is very important to separate science from politics. And I always say that, for investigation of outbreaks, epidemics, or pandemics, it should be left to the health experts rather than to politicians," he said.
"We should never politicize an outbreak where human lives are at stake," he said. "That is a very important principle."