Covid-19- One Year On
On the 23rd of March 2020, I actively started following Covid-19 headlines. Since then my research has grown way more than I had initially thought.I have learnt a lot about infection, immunity, public health and the pandemic response. The place of science in society is slowly being redefined as a result of the pandemic. It gave me time to fully realise what science meant to me and was the birth of my first big science communication project: Public perception of science.
I started this journey simply talking about what a vaccine was quite early on and then expanding that through what clinical trials were. This grew into combatting information on how the public perceives science, videos on wrongdoings of science and how to hold said system accountable. Multiple lockdowns later, the growth continued: trying to predict what the new normal would be through IG lives, podcasts and even more twitter conversations.
In that time so much has been learnt and there is still so much more. One year on,how people receive information, what is considered urgent and important is still being debated and will probably form a new area of research or focus for the next decade in preparation for the possibility of another pandemic. This blog post is a reflective overview of what has happened and where things are going.
“ pandemic is a contagious infectious disease that has spread to multiple geographic areas or continents. The term “contagious” implies that the infection can be transmitted person-to-person, either directly or indirectly.
Covid-19 and the year 2020 is one for the history books. With more than 121 million cases worldwide and the unfortunate deaths of which many could have been avoided. This is not something that can be skimmed over. Covid-19 has claimed more than 2million lives which is comparable to other epidemics such as the Russian Flu and Asian Flu. The only virus that exceeds the death toll is HIV Aids with more than 25-35Million deaths from 1981 to present. The Covid-19 numbers do not include the many families that have further been affected by the loss. This is why, comparing this disease to the common cold will be one of the biggest communication and misunderstandings of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As things begin to look better in some parts of the world, it is easy to talk of the pandemic like a thing that is slowly becoming a past issue. It is still new, meaning there is so much to be learnt in terms of long-Covid-19 sufferers and what society would look like moving on. It has led to a strain on many already struggling systems leaving more people with other diseases even more vulnerable and burning out an entire workforce.
For some people, coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. This is sometimes called post-COVID-19 syndrome or "long COVID"- NHS website
Even though we are a long way from “normality” , there have been many strides through science in getting some populations to a better position. At the start of the pandemic we had no idea how and what the best tests were. Testing capacity and options greatly changed and increased . The main two are the standard PCR test and now widely used Lateral flow test.Pharmacological interventions were also highly debated, Chloroquine and the controversy behind it , magical juices or remedies were also a point of conversation. Treatment and management of Covid-19 is at a much better place than it was before. With great strides, comes new questions, with the biggest and most important for the future being: Do the vaccines stop or reduce transmission of Covid-19
Do the vaccines stop or reduce transmission of Covid-19?
A big question on transmission that led to extreme lockdowns around the world. While the data around vaccines reducing transmission is promising, it hasn’t been set in stone. As time goes by and more people are vaccinated, the picture will get clearer.
For now, let’s take a look at real world evidence and different approaches ( with and without vaccines).
Looking back to the source:Wuhan,China. From extreme lockdowns to control and keeping cases down have been an incredible example to the world on how to handle an outbreak even if in the early outbreak things weren't perfect. Some countries were able to show great strength in public trust and compliance leading to control of the disease without the need for vaccines. These countries include: Australia, Taiwan and more. Their strategies and success have fully been outlined in a previous blog post: The world can handle Covid-19.
Outside of lockdown measures, vaccines have been fundamental in changing the course for many countries especially the UK and US showing huge decrease in cases and deaths that they were not able to control with lockdowns. These two nations like many others will probably not look at a zero Covid approach but instead look for an “acceptable” range like other countries have done and manage the disease accordingly.
In a recent press conference where prime minister and advisors were asked in their approach he stated
"There is therefore no credible route to a zero-Covid Britain or indeed a zero-Covid world. And we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children” - BBC
How have vaccines changed the trajectory of Covid-19 ?
To date, just in the UK there are several vaccine candidates available with more in the process of approval across the world. To keep track you can find INFORMATION from different vaccine trackers below
To understand what life could look like, again we need to look at other countries that have been leaders in vaccination rollouts and have started to open up. There is overwhelming evidence that the vaccine rollout has had an extreme positive effect on lowering the amount of covid-19 cases and deaths.
In Israel there has been solid proof on the effectiveness of the vaccines “ Jab has 97% efficacy against disease and death and 94% against infection without symptoms” having vaccinated 55% of their population with at least a single dose. “
Another country to look at is the UAE, exceptional leaders in vaccine trial participation, rollout and keeping the country open and even at one point the safe haven for British tourists. This is what you find UAE had max reported cases of approximately 1500, following the influx from the UK, cases rose to approx 4000 and is on the decline now .Deaths have remained below 20 per day! Reported deaths increased in Jan- Feb of 2021 ! but are still quite low.The UAE has also been one of a few countries to provide booster shots for individuals with a lower immune response. This is especially important when looking at the effects of booster shots as new variants arise and the vaccines become less effective against them.
Life in Israel and the UAE are somewhat normal. I could go on to compare the US which is also has a fantastic vaccine rollout , but for the most parts, many states have been somewhat open and without a single national lockdown. The US is an interesting backdrop for vaccine rollouts and once things settle down, will make for an interesting country comparison if it hasn’t already been done !
By looking at countries outside the UK, you get a real sense of what life and normality could look like. While there isn’t time to look at every country and every region, the new normal worldwide will continue on as some countries join those in an open society and some unfortunately continue to battle with the effects. The efforts of the COVAX vaccination scheme are good intentioned but will it be enough for global travel to resume in a simple way?
What is COVAX?
It is the only truly global solution to this pandemic because it is the only effort to ensure that people in all corners of the world will get access to COVID-19 vaccines once they are available, regardless of their wealth. - Gavi website
The threat of new variants spreading and becoming dominant is a major pushback to the strides in vaccine development and rollout ! If there was one thing to look for in headlines as the world opens up, it is the emergence of new variants ! Current vaccine candidates have been tested against new variants and they all show a reduction in effectiveness although levels are good enough to still offer more than the recommended minimum level of protection.
The variants reported have been tested against vaccines and to date of writing this post, variants with the EK48K mutation are now known to be more transmissible - what was responsible for the massive rise in cases in the UK. At the time known as the kent variant, now B.1.1.7 . This mutation has also been reported to be more deadly as compared to the original variant that had spread worldwide. When looking through headlines, for now new concern would be further spreading or mutations of the variant that further change the characteristics of the virus and make vaccines less effective. Till then the measures in place will hopefully work !
More recent reports on Covid-19 variants suggest that even though they mutate independent from each other, they seem to follow the same path.
"One pattern we see is called convergent evolution, where the same trait emerges in different independent lineages over time, usually as they adapt to similar environments "- Scientific American
Looking at the UK, It has currently reported all variants currently circulating in the world to be identified in some individuals. To some extent things are under control and being monitored. What will be difficult looking into the summer is the idea of travellers to neighbouring European countries that have not been as successful in reducing case numbers and vaccine rollouts. While countries like Portugal and Greece look to open up borders to travellers and think about vaccine passports, other nations like France and Germany etc have struggles with vaccine hesitancy around a specific vaccine candidate: Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine.
A survey published stated that Less than 50% in some European countries are willing to get vaccinated with some being as low as 36% in comparison to other western countries such as the USA and the UK.
Most non-EU( European Union) countries are at least 70% receptive to vaccinations. This would have probably been made worse by the news of Oxford /AstraZeneca vaccines possibly causing blood clots. More than 16 European nations temporarily stopped rollout and some having resumed rollout after the European medical agency declared it safe.
The Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine has had a rollercoaster ride in the press and would think things are turning for the better, there is more. Recent reports of the vaccine being 79% effective in trials in Brazil and other places brought joy to the world but these claims have been quickly shut down by private regulatory bodies in the US. This is not to say the vaccines aren’t safe but the data regarding their safety and effectiveness is not being reported accurately in their press releases.
It is an interesting thing to witness as the confusion brings about doubt in communities and can easily be used by Anti-vaccers as a way to further propagate their agenda. To date of this post AstraZeneca vaccine is still safe and efficacy reported at 76% - Nature report . Let’s hope there is no more drama.
The lack of trust and mixed messages out of Europe shows how trust and politics goes hand in hand. This is why science and politics should always be on the same page, with science leading policy and not the other way round when it comes to important health issues. A recent article outlines how Taiwan was able to achieve great balance between public trust, previous outbreak experience and new science: