THERE has been a real buzz about the Scot, Dr Kate Broderick, who is at the forefront of delivering a vaccine against coronavirus (Covid-19). Originally from Dunfermline, Broderick is heading up the team of scientists in the US that is attempting to fast-track a vaccine for the disease, which has spread rapidly in the past couple of months.

The company she works for, Inovio, has also been involved in some pretty impressive work in developing vaccines against both Ebola and the Zika virus. Broderick has explained that the vaccine developed for Zika was done in just seven months, and that the team is attempting a similar outcome in just four months for Covid-19.

She’s “very excited” by the results so far, revealing that they are now looking at human clinical testing as early as next month. Let’s just stop and think about that for a second. A vaccine for a virus, that was only discovered at the end of December, could be human-trial ready as early as April.

A few years ago, all of this falling into place so quickly was simply unthinkable.

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In late 2002, a man in Foshan, China, was diagnosed in hospital with having symptoms of pneumonia. When treatment didn’t work, Chinese officials simply reported it as “atypical pneumonia”.

The mysterious disease spread across southern China and the World Health Organisation (WHO) began to ask questions based on rumours it had heard of a potentially deadly new disease in the region – disease that we now know as Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

It wasn’t until an infected person travelled to Hong Kong – a concentrated city of seven million people – that the nature of the disease became apparent. This particular person infected an estimated 16 people in one hotel alone. With around 500 international flights coming in and out of Hong Kong every day, Sars spread around the world in a matter of weeks.

Luckily, Sars seemed to disappear quickly. The WHO declared it contained by July 2003 and it hasn’t been back since. Many experts consider this was simply luck, as there was limited time to co-ordinate an effective response to the disease, considering that it had spread to numerous people before anyone outside of the Chinese authorities knew there was a problem.

Following Sars, the WHO brought 196 countries around the table to talk about how to better prepare for future outbreaks of infections. At the 58th World Health Assembly, members agreed the International Health Regulations (2005) that would demand all countries take necessary steps to “detect, assess, notify and report” public health events, such as the outbreak of a new contagious pathogen.

Not all countries are fully compliant, even 15 years later, but serious progress has been made in terms of sharing information about possible public health problems.

Sars, a highly contagious virus, killed 18 people before China admitted there was a problem. Earlier this year, China handed over the genetic sequence of the new Covid-19 coronavirus just over a week after the first person presented with the previously unknown disease.

This sequence has enabled scientists such as Broderick to develop a DNA-based vaccine for Covid-19. And next month, just four months after the first case was discovered in China, the vaccine could be ready to go to human trials.

The National: Advice given to prevent the spread of the virus includes washing your hands frequentlyAdvice given to prevent the spread of the virus includes washing your hands frequently

OBVIOUSLY, all going well, there’s a fair bit of the way to go with various stages of reaching the approval of medical agencies across the world, as well as large-scale manufacturing – not to mention the time it would then take to get people immunised through their local GP or hospital. Health authorities would need to determine who needs the vaccine as a priority, and how best to ensure that the most vulnerable people are protected.

Sars was a near-miss in terms of the damage the disease could have inflicted on the human population. The world wasn’t ready to deal with a pandemic with such potential for spreading around communities and for loss of life.

In the end, Sars infected around 8000 people, killing just fewer than 800 (10%). At the time of writing this column, 115,829 people around the world have tested positive for Covid-19, with just more than 4000 deaths so far (3.5%).

The advice remains the same on helping to prevent the spread of coronavirus – wash your hands frequently and self-isolate if you have symptoms.

Many people are likely to experience mild symptoms from the disease. Those most at risk from it are people with underlying health conditions.

Some experts estimate that there are around 1.5 million viruses in nature that we have not yet discovered. It just takes the right mutation for a new virus to jump from an animal host to humans.

The political lessons learned from Sars have brought us so far, and there is incredible work going on around the world to help to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

What we can be absolutely certain of is the interconnected nature of the world we live in means that we need to work together to preserve public health from this and future outbreaks.