Fears that whichever country comes up with a COVID-19 vaccine first will help its own people first, have prompted American multinational investment bank Goldman Sachs to express its desire for more than one winner.

Earlier this week, the boss of multinational pharmaceutical firm Sanofi, Paul Hudson, said the US had the “right to the largest pre-order” because it had invested in the company’s vaccine program.

On Thursday, an open letter signed by several past world leaders and a handful of current leaders called for “a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products”.

But Abbey Joseph Cohen, a prominent analyst at New York headquartered Goldman Sachs says first past the post shouldn’t mean the race ends.

She argued multiple vaccines would be needed to help the world get out of this pandemic.

“The physicians and scientists with whom I have the opportunity to speak do believe that there are probably seven or eight or more that look promising right now,” Cohen said.

“They think it’s going to take multiple vaccines in order to have enough to actually make dosages available to enough people.”

The “seven or eight” figure is in line with World Health Organisation data.

It estimates eight candidates are in clinical trials, meaning trials are occurring in humans and around a hundred more are in the pre-clinical stage.


Vaccine the most likely way out

Cohen also argued a vaccine would be the most likely way out of the pandemic.

“It may very well be that until there’s a vaccine or until there’s the herd immunity that many people refer to … that we will have these occasional upturns in disease incidents,” she said.

“What will matter is if we can get them under control quickly enough. One thing I’ve learned listening to public health officials is that as the economy gets reopened, in whatever way — even if it is done safely as possible, they do expect there to be a resurgence of the disease.

“What will matter is how quickly there can be a response to that and also to make sure that the health systems in those areas can handle a rise in cases.”


Herd immunity in disrepute

While Cohen was not ruling out herd immunity completely she pointed to the UK as an example of a country that had pursued that strategy and failed.

“The recognition is that approach was not the thing to do because it was based on a faulty understanding of [COVID-19],” she said.

“The understanding was it was affecting older people and older people with morbidities in particular.

“What we’ve now discovered is younger people can become ill from this disease and children too.”

Cohen said experts now knew that even in cases where children were asymptomatic, they’re “incredible disease vectors” and they tend to transmit the disease to others.

“So this idea of herd mobility — let’s get it over with, has come into disrepute,” she said.

While there is no guarantee a vaccine will be developed, one alternative outcome could be a treatment that minimises the impact of the disease, similar to the treatments that have been developed for HIV.

“A treatment is not the same as a vaccine but in the absence of one or herd immunity, it would be great,” Cohen said.