The Remarkable (And Sometimes Mind-Blowing) Ways Science Has Helped Us Through the Pandemic

The Remarkable (And Sometimes Mind-Blowing) Ways Science Has Helped Us Through the Pandemic

Even twenty years ago, the notion that you could develop a vaccine and use it to inoculate the population against a disease within a matter of months seemed far-fetched. But today, thanks to the efforts of companies, scientists, and governments around the world, it’s a reality.

Within a year of the global outbreak of COVID-19, there were already vaccines available that could protect the public and prevent serious disease. Moreover, companies had developed rapid testing kits that gave accurate diagnoses within a matter of minutes. According to virologist Theodora Hatziioannou at New York’s Rockefeller University, the world has “never progressed so fast” against an infectious agent.

In this post, we look at some of the mind-blowing advances in science and technology made over the last 18 months. These have enabled humanity to respond to the threat posed by COVID-19 and reduce the death toll significantly.

Fast-Tracked Vaccines

The number of COVID-19 vaccines in development is larger than most of the public realises. In November 2020, WHO stated that there were more than 200 in development with over 50 in clinical trials.

Vaccines employed a range of different technologies. Some use inactivated SARS-CoV-2 viral particles while others use mRNA, spike proteins, and other novel methods.

Remarkably, despite relatively little progress against the common cold, COVID-19 vaccinations appeared to work. They were 80 to 95 per cent effective at preventing symptoms, according to trials; a remarkable achievement.

Aside from some early hiccups, companies also distributed vaccines around the world rapidly. Countries, like the UK, had an early lead, but eventually even developing countries in the southern and eastern hemispheres (with relatively few exceptions) caught up.

Rapid Testing

Testing also saw remarkable progress. Early on in the crisis, researchers said that mass testing was the best way to reduce the impact of the pandemic on intensive care units. Isolating infected individuals, epidemiologists said, could reduce the “R” rate.

During the first few months, however, it became clear that existing PCR tests were just too slow. This reality spurred the development of new rapid tests that promised to use antigens and CRISPR (the gene-editing tool) to give patients faster, more accurate diagnoses. Companies all over the world, including those in Hong Kong, have now developed rapid molecular detection systems that can identify COVID-19 and a host of other infectious diseases. These will help facilitate faster transfers at airports and allow countries to reopen their economies to the rest of the world more rapidly.

Novel Antiviral Treatments

Even during the early stages of the pandemic, scientists argued that vaccines alone were unlikely to bring it to an end. What was needed was a combination of “vaccines and therapeutics,” according to Lennie Derde, an ICU physician working at University Medical Center Utrecht.

During the early days, medications were unproven and of limited effectiveness. Doctors sometimes used conventional antivirals off-label for COVID-19 patients with serious complications. Antimalarials and HIV drug combinations were frontline interventions.

However, on October 22, 2020, the FDA approved the use of the antiviral remdesivir for COVID-19 for people aged 12 or older requiring hospitalization. And more recently, Pfizer and Merck developed separate drugs that reduce the number of patients with serious complications or dying from the disease. The FDA will soon evaluate both and, potentially, approve them for the market.

Bottom Line

Never before has the world seen such a rapid scientific response to an infectious disease. The only reason it is now possible is because of the synergistic effects of multiple technologies and the quality of institutional structures. In today’s world, scientists have the necessary tools and relationships to allow them to make rapid progress on vaccines and drugs, performing years of work in a matter of weeks.

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