Could the Covid lead to progress?

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Think about how Covid could have been different if, say, 50% of the world’s urban population had switched to this mode on February 1, 2020. Could that have stopped the virus in its tracks? Maybe not. But it could have resulted in a global epidemic that was more like the South Korean or San Francisco experience, with death rates being a tiny fraction of what they ultimately turned out to be.

We are learning of Covid in a more obvious way too: through the prism of science. After the great flu, it took 13 years – thanks to a young virologist named Richard Edwin Shope, who noticed veterinary reports of an unusual outbreak of swine flu in pigs in the fall of 1918 – to prove that the pandemic had been caused by a virus. . The contrast with Covid could not be more extreme: we have isolated the SARS-CoV-2 virus around 20 days after the outbreak was first reported. A little over a week later, its genome had been sequenced and shared around the world, and the plan for what would become mRNA vaccines (those made, ultimately, by Pfizer and Moderna) was all but finished.

It’s important to remember that mRNA vaccines were a promising, though unproven, avenue of investigation for years before the pandemic struck; no one could say for sure that they even worked. But now, BioNTech has announced that it is accelerating the development of a malaria vaccine using messenger RNA as the delivery mechanism, and Moderna and its partners have announced that they are starting trials of two vaccine candidates for the MRNA against HIV Malaria kills an estimated 400,000 people a year, HIV nearly a million, and both diseases disproportionately affect young people. If the successful mass deployment of Covid vaccines ends up speeding up the timing of these other vaccines, the impact on human life will be enormous.

And just as the great flu slowly pushed scientists towards the development of flu vaccines, which eventually became commonplace in the 1940s, the Covid crisis will redirect vast sums of money towards the development of universal vaccines to protect against all variants of influenza and coronavirus. . Given the relentless disease burden of influenza around the world, year after year, a vaccine that reduces its virulence by an order of magnitude would be a lifeline of historic proportions.

What to say about the more subtle psychological legacy of the Covid? How will this change the way we view the world – and its risks – when the pandemic finally subsides? I have a memory of May of this year, taking my 17-year-old son to Manhattan’s Javits Center for his first shot, followed by a shopping spree to pick out a tie for his prom (masked, outdoors). At one point I made a half-hearted joke about how we embarked on the classic father-son ritual of going to the mass vaccination site to protect him from the plague. I thought so ironically, but the truth is that for my son’s generation, balls and plagues will be part of the rituals of growth.

This is a loss of innocence, but also a hard-earned realism: the knowledge that rare, high-risk events like pandemics are not only theoretically possible but probable, in an increasingly urban and closely interconnected world. of eight billion people. As a parent, you want to protect your children from unnecessary anxiety, but not when the threat is real. My son’s generation will forever see pandemics as a fundamental fact of life, and this assumption, painful as it is, will protect him when the next threat emerges. But maybe if the science unleashed by this pandemic keeps its promises, his his children – or perhaps his grandchildren – could inherit a world where plagues are a thing of the past.


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