Battle with Covid-19 has been a valuable wake-up call

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It is Saturday morning, Oct. 17. It is early, the air is cooler, shafts of sunlight streaking my wet, well-barbered lawn.

Later this morning, I’ll meet my friend Lynn Seldon and the two of us will swim the gray-green, life-filled waters of Battery Creek. Lynn and I will swim against the tide, eventually tire, then float back to the dock where we started.

As we let the tide carry us back to the dock we’ll talk.

We will talk of Lynn’s writing (he and his wife, Cele, are travel writers) and the novel he is about to publish. We will talk about his world-wide travel. But, inevitably, we will get round to the virus and how this invisible, inscrutable creature has interrupted our lives — how this whole experience has left us feeling vulnerable.

Once again a virus has made a run through the world’s population underscoring the fact that our species is not dominant — that we are still engaged in an existential competition where the outcome is not certain. And while this infection does not include the blood-spurting, horror-movie special effects of Ebola, we now know there are more un-numbered, un-named, opportunistic viruses waiting to mutate their way into our own bodies.

What was unexpected was the speed in which a vaccine “vector” or formula was developed — about 100 days. No, I’m not talking about a finished, ready to inject vaccine. I’m talking about the underlying protein delivery system, the so-called “platform technologies” that were formulated in a remarkably short time.

One hundred days.

What is more remarkable is that there are at least a half dozen different technologies that would have never seen the light of day had not this one virus mutated making its way from Chinese bats to unsuspecting humans in Wuhan.

“It’s a game changer,” Dr. Richard Hatchett, chief executive officer for the Coalition for Epidemiological Preparedness Innovation, told the Wall Street Journal. 

It’s a gamer changer because “many are being made using new technologies,” Hatchett says, “Once approved by regulators these vaccines can be used to make future vaccines. The process will be a lot quicker. The platform technologies they use, such a viral vectors and protein delivery systems, are essentially the base components for a new vaccine to which sequences of new pathogens are then added.”

To make the future of our species even more promising, virologists are now studying commonalities within virus families. Understanding these commonalities will help us develop therapeutics that will work against all of them.

Yes, we’re now developing strategies for “all of them.”

As an added bonus, at least one vaccine contender — Astrozeneca/Oxford University — is going to give their vaccine at “cost” during the pandemic; and to make it available to low-income countries at no profit.

All of which reminds us of Sir Anthony Fleming, who happened to observe that a random mold had killed-off bacteria he was growing in a petri dish. This was 1928. Although he developed a bacteria-killing broth, he had trouble extracting the minute amounts of penicillin from the broth. It took hundreds of thousands of (World War II) casualties to find a way to produce large quantities of penicillin.

Sometimes it takes a war, and casualties, to focus our wandering minds on something cannot see. Sometimes it take millions of infections and 220,000 dead (in the United States) to focus our attention on the microbiology that is all around us — a huge, unseen biomass (yes, I know that viruses aren’t really a life-form) that doesn’t get much press until it closes-down bars, cancels football games and makes us wear a mask when we go to Publix.

And yet, incredibly, there are those who don’t believe this epidemic is really a problem. Notwithstanding a huge, mostly unknown infection rate; and about 220,000 deaths in this country, many people in the United States did not (and do not) believe this virus constitutes a threat worthy of a mask.

But one hopes, prays, that the vaccine research that has been put into motion by Covid 19 stays in motion. I really do hate metaphors, but this battle with Covid 19 is a “wake up call” that we can’t afford to ignore. Even though we have kindred who will not take the vaccine when its perfected, future historians may record that our war on viral pathogens was won — or dramatically advanced — with the basic research that began in the Spring of 2020.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.


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