Vaccine research races against the coronavirus
The novel coronavirus is running fast. It has forced us to stay home, wash our hands constantly, keep our distance, collect unemployment, and hope it doesn’t find us.
But worldwide, scientists are not hiding; they’re weaponizing. Some three dozen or so companies and academic institutions are in hot pursuit of COVID-19 vaccines or other treatments that would eliminate the pathogen, or at least put it on a short leash.
Unfortunately, it’s like the tortoise against the hare: The virus appears to be far ahead of the painstaking research.
Still, it’s good to hear that the University of Hawaii has joined the effort. Among the vaccines in development is one at the UH’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, under the direction of Axel Lehrer.
The UH-Manoa scientist and his team, along with the biopharmaceutical company Soligenix, Inc., are pursuing a recombinant subunit vaccine equal to the globe-spanning problem: It could be used by just about anybody, Lehrer said, and would be “thermostable, can be produced in mass quantities and can be shipped anywhere without the need for refrigeration.” The work builds on technology successfully advanced by Lehrer and his team to combat the Ebola virus.
Lehrer said it could take six to nine months to reach clinical trials. Others are hoping for quicker results.
Moderna Therapeutics expects its vaccine, based on RNA, will ready for human testing as early as April. Still others are working on treatments based on using antibodies from the blood of COVID-19 survivors. The so-called convalescent plasma treatment has been used to treat infectious diseases, including Ebola, but no one is sure it will work on the new coronavirus.
A big uncertainty is how long the coronavirus will be with us, and if it will burn itself out.
When another coronavirus — SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) — broke out 18 years ago, a similar race to create a vaccine took off. But when SARS faded, so did interest in a vaccine.
We now are learning that a coronavirus can cause a catastrophe of global proportions. Vaccine research needs to expand for this class of disease. UH’s research may take longer than desired, but if successful, it could provide an eminently practical solution to this vexing problem.
After all, the tortoise eventually caught up with the hare, and won.
Loss of wind project hurts renewable energy effort
Though COVID-19 has taken its toll in Hawaii and across the U.S., Palehua Wind says its proposed Waianae wind farm was not a victim of the coronavirus pandemic that has brought society to a virtual standstill.
Rather, community concerns of another sort might have contributed to the demise of the 46.8-megawatt wind farm proposed atop Makakilo hills: NIMBYism.
Eurus Energy America this week withdrew its bid for the green-energy proposal that had been supported by Hawaiian Electric and by landowner Gill ‘Ewa Lands LLC — but opposed by some in the community.
“After dedicating four years to develop the Palehua Wind project in West Oahu, Eurus Energy America has decided to withdraw its bid,” Eurus said in a statement. “After much consideration, the risk factors associated with developing wind projects in Hawaii were deemed too great for us to proceed.”
It certainly would have been difficult for Palehua to ignore the controversy that had enveloped a recent wind project that went up in Kahuku. In very public opposition, protesters in November rallied against the Na Pua Makani project; that windfarm was built, but not before protests resulted in clashes with police.
There might be legitimate concerns over Na Pua’s wind turbine proximity to the Kahuku community, a grievance making its way though the city Zoning Board of Appeals. But the Palehua project was sited atop ridges away from community hubs, and it aligned with the state’s law to reach 100% “clean energy” by the year 2045.
Indeed, Palehua’s demise is a setback that stymies momentum. Despite what many might wish, solar will not be able to get Hawaii toward its 100% renewable goal; it will take a mix of other energy sources and technologies.
Hawaiian Electric had considered Palehua Wind an important part of the necessary mix. Elimination of this project now intensifies interest in Hawaiian Electric’s scheduled announcement in May, to name finalists for renewable- energy projects to accelerate the transition off fossil fuels for electricity generation.
Four months ago, Hawaiian Electric was “really pleased” that more than 75 proposals had responded to its call for more renewable energy resources, for projects on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island. With Palehua’s exit, let’s see who steps forward in this competitive bidding process and moves ahead on final approvals before the Public Utilities Commission — and awaiting communities.