Archive for December, 2020

Humankind’s Biggest Biomedical Experiment

Tuesday, December 15th, 2020
Image Source: BBC News

This year is finally coming to an end and it will make history. In one century, we have never seen something like this: a pandemia that affected every single person in the planet. Scary right? Imagine in a decade from now or even when we are old (hopefully surviving to all this craziness) telling how the world stopped because of a nanoparticle, a virus, in the year 2020. Well, this is my last blog post for the year of 2020, a year that changed the world in all countries without exception. I’ve been writing about the pandemia (or pandemic if you are british) since it started. What a year! Lockdowns, masks, social isolation, deaths, healthcare systems burning out. If we could go back in the early 2000s and would be able to tell this history to someone it would look like a Hollywood movie, however in this case no hero came to save us all. Except the scientists and healthcare workers who were the real heroes this year (even TIME magazine devoted a special issue to these heroes in their last issue). A year to be forgotten; to be remembered as an example on how unprepared all countries (no exception) are for something like this. In a recent podcast I’ve did (as soon as it is released, I will post the link) I discussed how this year was interesting in the sense that all of us had to stop our “auto-pilot” and accelerated lives to rethink everything: from family to our professional lives to who we really are as human beings. It was a “pit stop” or sabbatical for several people to re-evaluate their lives (especially for me). On the other hand, for the kids and the new generations being born this year and the teenagers, this year was confusing and will leave marks forever. The world was already virtual and mobile-driven before and now it got worse. Anyway, let’s go to the point of the post: the biggest scientific and biomedical experiment for humankind; to vaccinate 7 Billion+ people in the globe.

Vaccination Logistics

We now have around 7 options of vaccines that started to roll out to the public with the hope that it will stop the coronavirus. Now I can give some perspectives and leave some questions for the reader. Vaccines in general take 5 to 10 years to be evaluated for all their effects in long clinical trials with hundreds to thousands of people. The thing is that even after a successful vaccination we need time to see the mid to long-term side-effects. The clinical trials for all of the vaccines available now took less than a year and were done with a number of people below the regular number, even with the efficacy ranging from ~60-95%. In addition, now we have a new type of vaccine, using genetic material to make living human cells in our body produce a protein from the virus creating an immunological “memory” for the virus in a second encounter. I believe that in a year, scientists have learnt a lot and that was a kind of preparation for other pandemia(s) that could happen in the future. It is unquestionable that this is the greatest achievement in science and biomedicine this year. However, some questions still remain unanswered.

Unanswered Questions

My questions and concerns are: 1) How the logistics of the vaccination will work from country to country?; 2) which vaccine each country will choose since we know there is a lot of money involved in licensing, production and in the distribution; 3) Some protocols already have information that elderly and healthcare workers will take it first – what about the rest of us?; 4) each country will use different measures and we don’t really know if this will negatively affect developing and low-income countries; 5) with these new technologies we can expect lots of side-effects; remember we are all genetically different and scientific studies have already shown that each person responds differentially to the viral infection – what about the response to the vaccine?; 6) people that already got COVID19 and is cured can take the vaccine? – we really do not know how their bodies will respond yet; 7) International flights will go back to normal – I just read that besides the passport people will need a vaccine “passport” to start flying around the globe. How will be the logistics for this since each country will use a different vaccine and/or protocol for vaccination?; and the last one 8) How governments will “sync” the vaccination and evaluate the concerns I just pointed out above? We will be “guinea pigs” or “lab rats” in the biggest scientific experiment humankind ever had. The year of 2020 was a year of lots of learnings in the personal, professional, societal and global levels. Let’s hope the vaccines (all of the approved ones) work with few side-effects and the virus fades away so we can go back to our lives, but now with a different perspective.

Bye Bye 2020!

One thing is for sure, 2020 is gone, but 2021 will still be a year of lots of learning. And most importantly, masks and procedures to avoid viruses and bacteria that can cause another pandemia came to stay. Thus, be used to that! The world changed forever. I wish the worst is ending and good times are ahead of us. Let’s cross our fingers and continue taking care of ourselves and our loved ones. Finally I can scream: Bye Bye 2020! I wish a better 2021 to all the readers.