इंडियन आवाज़     25 Sep 2023 04:52:04      انڈین آواز

COVID-19, A lesson for Science and Society

By Dr. Seyed Ehtesham Hasnain

COVID-19 pandemic has shaken human lives in an unprecedented manner. Never before in the history of humanity has any threat had affected every domain of our existence. The deadly virus has attacked the very notion of Man—The Social Animal. Interestingly we are being saved by non-drug interventions such as quarantine, social distancing, hand washing, and – for health-care workers – masks and other protective equipment.

The greatly reduced COVID-19 infection burden and even mortality seen in many parts of the world where BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) vaccination has been the widely used practice, may not just be a coincidence. BCG was originally developed against Tuberculosis (TB) and this hundred-year-old TB vaccine offers broad protection and sharply reduce the incidence of respiratory infections.

Three weeks after the pandemic was declared by the WHO, it is increasingly clear from the Covid-19 data that countries which have been practicing universal BCG vaccination are relatively giving a better to fight to SARS-CoV-2 which could be BCG’S “trained immunity” effect.

The effect of Covid-19 as per a recent report in the journal Science, the disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences.

We are all hoping for a vaccine in 2021. But what do we do in the meantime? And more importantly we will have to live with the threat of coronavirus “for the foreseeable future” and adapt accordingly because there is no guarantee a vaccine can be developed immediately. The biggest lesson that we learn out of the COVID-19 pandemic is to be remain protected indoors, distancing socially.

Three ways how Science will get us through the COVID-19 Pandemic: The modern frontiers: Within just weeks of the first reported case, scientists had not only identified by microscopic the virus responsible for the disease, but had sequenced its entire genome.

The curiosity-driven foundations: There is value, intrinsically, to knowing something about any aspect of the natural world. The curiosity-driven research of evolutionary virologists, of disease ecologists, of biophysicists, and scientists across many other fields of inquiry not only informs clinicians and policymakers, but also every cutting-edge piece of research at the frontiers of the field today.

The edge of fundamental: This is the most powerful knowledge in all of science; the fundamental limits of what’s physically possible. Scientists are constantly working to push the limits of what’s known. Scientific investments need to occur not only on the front lines of the current crisis, but on a wide-variety of curiosity driven, frontiers including at fundamental level itself.

Scientific lessons to be learnt
•Covid-19 early genome annotation led to key knowledge transfer allowing vaccine developments and efforts in drug design.
•However, some neo characteristics of Covid-19 has left a void and could be addressed by thorough interventions.
We are living in extraordinary times that call for united efforts, as these problems are much too complex in magnitude and scale for anyone to solve alone. The “Information Storm” that COVID-19 is raising globally is rather difficult to cope with.

Research at Jamia Hamdard
Earlier research at the JH Institute of Molecular Medicine showed that the SARS-CoV-2 has very high transmissibility and that SARS-CoV-2’s inherent feature of viral aggregation increases it’s survivability and fitness, a property that will likely help in viral persistence and becoming endemic.

Analyses of about 4000 clinical isolates of SARS-CoV-2, including 25 isolates sequenced in India (largest such comparative study ever done till date globally), showed that Indian isolates are not unique, they all cluster along isolates from other continents, Europe and North America highlighting spill over from these nations. Mutation analyses revealed highest variation in Spike, Envelope protein and ORF1a and that each amino acid in constituent ORF’s has undergone mutation – an observation which has major Implications in diagnosis and vaccine development. He also flagged the low infection and mortality figures in India and wondered at the possibility of this to be BCG’s ‘Trained Immunity’ effect.

Impact on World Politics
The pandemic has global political effects as more suffering is ahead for the developing world. Pandemic is shaking bedrock assumptions about US exceptionalism and the likely global leadership void waiting to be filled. Debate rages over ideology, power blocs, social inequalities and distribution of wealth across the world. Though nothing could be predicted, yet world leaders, policymakers and analysts have started talking about the shape of the new situation emerge post-Corona.

Dr. Seyed Ehtesham Hasnain is a noted scientist and Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard

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