British expert says social distancing is best as Covid-19 vaccine uncertain

Dr Bharat Pankhania, from the University of Exeter, advises the public to practise social distancing, wash hands and consider everyone and every place ‘as infected and infectious’.

PETALING JAYA: A British expert in communicable disease control today said there was no guarantee scientists will come up with a vaccine for Covid-19.

Dr Bharat Pankhania, from the University of Exeter, told an online forum providing updates on the Covid-19 pandemic, that the coronavirus might not induce long-term immunity and producing a vaccine was “a tall order”.

He said in the future, scientists might instead find a cure to treat the disease instead.

For the moment, the only and best form of intervention was maintaining social distancing and good hygiene by washing hands frequently.

Dr Bharat Pankhania

Pankhania warned that failure to control the pandemic globally might turn it into an endemic that would continue to cause new outbreaks across the world.

“It is in our own interests to control it in our community and in our country, and assist the World Health Organization (WHO) to keep it under control in poorer nations with poor health infrastructure,” he said.

Pankhania reminded that a lot of people might be asymptomatic. Experts still do not know if all who carry the virus will transmit it to other people.

Asked about reinfections, he said: “The truthful answer is we don’t know.

“When you do a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, are you identifying an active presence of the virus or are you identifying viral RNA material as a proxy for the virus?”

He said there was currently no way of knowing if the presence of RNA material in a patient’s sample would mean that he or she was infectious.

On a related matter, he said there was a 30% rate of “false negatives” with coronavirus test results.

“This is exceedingly high. Even in the best hands, we are getting 30% false negatives.”

Therefore, he said it was important for doctors and healthcare practitioners to look at signs and symptoms too, instead of overly relying on test results.

Pankhania advised the public to consider everyone and every place “as infected and infectious”.

He said experts were learning more about the virus every day.

Aside from discovering new symptoms, such as shortness of breath, extreme tiredness, unexpected nose bleeds, abdominal pain and kidney problems, experts have discovered that the disease could affect multiple organs.

“There appears to be neurological involvement. There appears to be a direct hit on the myocardium (heart tissue) as well as the lungs and other organs.”

He said it was therefore important to check up on Covid-19 patients who had recovered to find any long-term sequelae, or chronic conditions leftover from the infection.

He added that there was also a need to follow up with mothers infected during pregnancy and their babies.

There were 93 new Covid-19 cases in the country today, pushing the total number of infected patients nationwide so far to 7,970, with 1,324 active cases. There have been 115 deaths, but none for the past week.

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