Despite apparently having no cases, North Korea has announced it will join the global race to develop a vaccine for coronavirus.
Some of the greatest minds from around the world have been working on a vaccine for months, in hopes to protect people from the coronavirus, which has infected more than 14 million worldwide and killed over 600,000.
North Korea has not publicly admitted to having any coronavirus cases, yet the reclusive nation’s State Commission of Science and Technology clinical trials for a domestic vaccine candidate are underway, CNN reported.
There are already more than 150 promising vaccines at various stages of development all over the world.
While it’s unknown why North Korea has decided to join the vaccine race now, CNN points to coronavirus posing a threat to the country’s frail healthcare system, genuine fear of the virus, and the fact that developing a vaccine could make leader Kim Jong-un look good.
However, CNN also notes North Korea is at a financial disadvantage - developing a vaccine costs money and some entrants in the race are backed by large pharmaceutical companies.
North Korea coronavirus response ‘a shining success’
North Korea quickly imposed a lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and according to news agency KCNA, Kim declared the response was a “shining success” earlier this month.
When coronavirus started to spread from neighbouring China at the start of this year, North Korea closed its border in January and imposed restrictions, putting thousands of people into isolation.
Analysts say the North is unlikely to have avoided the contagion and its ramshackle health system could struggle to cope with a major outbreak.
According to Reuters, North Korea’s Ministry of Public Health has been keeping the World Health Organisation in the loop and last month it was reported all educational institutions were reopened and children are required to wear masks.
Oxford coronavirus vaccine ‘promising’
Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca seem to be leading the vaccine race, with early trials suggesting the vaccine is safe and produces immunity, researchers said earlier this week.
The ongoing trial involving 1077 healthy adults found that the vaccine "induced strong antibody and T cell immune responses" up to day 56, the researchers wrote in The Lancet medical journal.
The vaccine uses a genetically modified common cold virus that infects chimpanzees, weakened so that it can't cause disease in humans, said Oxford's Andrew Pollard, the lead author of the study.
While the findings seem promising, Pollard warned more research is needed to confirm the vaccine will effectively protect people from coronavirus and determine how long the dose will protect people.
There have been whispers a vaccine could be ready this year, however vaccines usually take years to develop.
In addition to the UK, the US, China and Germany have all joined the race to find a vaccine, as has Australia.
It actually does matter which country develops a vaccine, if one country is successful, it could get rid of the united world response to the pandemic.
“If we have vaccine nationalism and one country looks after itself first and at the expense of the rest of the world, everyone is going to continue to suffer,” Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations chair Jane Halton told the National Press Club.
US accuses Chinese hackers of targeting coronavirus researchers
Overnight, the US Justice Department has accused two Chinese hackers of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of trade secrets from companies across the world, and targeting firms developing a coronavirus vaccine.
An indictment says the hackers in recent months researched vulnerabilities in the computer networks of companies publicly known for their work in developing vaccines and treatments.
The indictment includes charges of trade secret theft and wire fraud conspiracy against the hackers.
Federal prosecutors say they stole information not only for themselves but also information they knew would be of interest and value to the Chinese government.
The charges are believed to be the first accusing foreign hackers of targeting scientific innovation related to the coronavirus, though US and Western intelligence agencies have warned for months about those efforts.
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