- 20 May 2021
Excerpt: With 20,000 people dying per week in Europe-an indelible indication of the lethality officially proves that the extent of infection has gone more dangerous this time. Meanwhile, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Director-General Shekhar C Mande on Sunday warned that the Covid-19 crisis was far from being over and allowing a "third wave" by lowering our guard is fraught with grave consequences
Case incidence, hospitalizations and deaths are now on the rise in Central Europe, the Balkans and the Baltic states and it has indeed raised the eyebrows of administrators and healthcare workers. In early March, the WHO warned that the number of COVID-19 cases being reported across the continent of Europe is higher than it was this time last year. Hans Kluge, Europe director at the WHO, urged leaders to “get back to basics” and re-engage their populations in the drive to contain the pandemic. He has also claimed that 'pandemic fatigue' along with the ongoing vaccination may be the reason behind this increased restlessness among people. “Pandemic fatigue” can occur when people get tired of the pandemic measures and become less likely to follow public health practices or simply begin to drown out those messages. It's important that we realize zoning out would only exacerbate the situation considering the inevitability of a third wave and possibility of subsequent waves.
Image Credits: John Hopkins University
Europe raises a red flag
With deaths resulting from Covid-19 rising to record-high in the past few weeks, many European countries have re-introduced or extended lockdown measures.
Germany has extended its current restrictions until April 18 and initially planned a five-day nationwide lockdown for the first five days of April. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel had to revoke her decision after public outrage over restricted Easter.
Paris is entering a new month-long lockdown, together with several other regions in the north and the south of France. A total of approximately 21 million people in 16 areas of France will be affected. France already has a nationwide curfew from 7pm to 6am. Italy has shut down shops, schools and restaurants in major parts of Italy including Milan and Rome and has also announced a nationwide lockdown over the three-day Easter weekend. Although Greece is open to foreign tourists, the restrictions on unnecessary travel, shops and restaurants are all the same.
The lucrative summer months which is otherwise home to relaxed evenings and congenial surroundings in Europe, will unfortunately see a major dip in economy this year too owing to trepidation among foreign tourists.
Image Credits: BBC Research
Vaccination programmes on track, yet the loopholes
The very common question that this unprecedented rise in infections bring up is if the vaccines are effective and of any use. While this has been answered by all the business powerhouses, statistics doesn't really agree to their claims. Or does it?
The upsurge in infections cannot have a single cause. Various anomalies are accountable for this uncontrolled spread of the disease, the most important being people already assuming the curve has been flattened and therefore showing general sloppiness towards the protocols and procedures. Nevertheless, the development of newer variants of coronaviruses and the innumerable scandals surfaced by vaccine groups also play a major role.
Some 48 out of 53 European countries or territories have reported the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK. It is known to be up to 50 percent more transmissible than the original variant of the coronavirus due to a mutation affecting its spike protein. The mutation allows the spike protein to make stronger bonds with human cells, thereby making it the more dominant strain and eventually adept at thwarting measures that were previously effective. In the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, intensive care units are filling up pretty fast and about 70% of the patients are infected with the U.K. variant of coronavirus. There is some research suggesting that the U.K. variant may be associated with a 30% higher risk of death, although the result is not conclusive.
Same is the case for B1.351 – or South African – variant, which contains the E484k mutation, which can make it less susceptible to antibodies produced by a vaccine or by having previously caught COVID-19.
The Brazil variant emerged in July and has this E484K mutation too. But what's more concerning about this variant is the possibility that it has re-emerged into a second variant. Just over 20 days after Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases announced the detection of a new SARS-CoV-2 variant — isolated from samples from four travelers from Amazonas, Brazil — the P.1 variant has already been detected in multiple other countries besides Brazil and Japan, from the United States to Germany to the Faroe Islands, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report. In addition, researchers are monitoring the emergence of a second variant, called P.2, identified in Rio de Janeiro. As it stands now, Brazil has to contend with two SARS-CoV-2 variants at the same time and that precisely describes its highest daily death-toll.
The New York strain and the Indian strain are still in the test phase but they too have accounted for 50% of the new infections in their respective countries. The Indian strain has been detected in 206 samples in the western state of Maharashtra in India, according to a government official. The new variant was also detected in nine samples in the capital New Delhi, Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of India’s National Centre for Disease Control, told a news conference.
A survey of 77 epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease specialists across 28 countries has suggested that new or modified covid-19 vaccines to tackle coronavirus variants could become necessary within a year or less. Two-thirds of respondents to the survey, conducted by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said that first-generation covid-19 vaccines could be rendered ineffective by variants of the coronavirus within a year or less while 88 per cent said persistent low vaccine coverage in many countries would increase the chance of vaccine-resistance mutations appearing.
Image Credits: Medscape
Halts in Vaccine rollouts can also change the game
There is extensive empirical evidence that adduces the fact that halts in vaccine rollouts are a principle cause behind slow vaccination and rapid spread of infection.
In December 2020, allergic reactions were diagnosed in about eight people receiving Pfizer vaccine. Doctors suspected that the nanoparticles present in the packaging of messenger RNA triggers these adverse reactions. The Pfizer vaccine was thereafter halted in various European countries.
Lately AstraZeneca has encountered a pause in their vaccine rollout owing to risk of blood clot formation. Authorities in Berlin and Munich in Germany announced on 30 March that they are temporarily suspending use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine in people under the age of 60 over concerns about rare blood clots in some people who received it. Germany’s medical regulator has recorded 31 cases of a rare blood clot in the brain in people who had received the vaccine. On 29 March, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine should not be used in adults under the age of 55, while cases of rare blood clots are being investigated. France and Spain have also limited use of the vaccine to older people.
Manufacturing and transportation delays are always there to make the situation worse.
These small, but important, delays to the rollout of vaccines have played a pivotal role in accentuating the mushrooming of coronaviruses and Covid-19 disease.
Greed upping the ante
The 'giant corporations' that have invested chunks of money for development of vaccines inevitably want to give good returns to shareholders. But who's going to pay the price for such lucrativeness?
While U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson lauds greed to be the reason for the super success of vaccines, thousands have died in lower income countries owing to unavailability of them. Obviously, he was far from understanding the unethical reach of his distasteful comment. It is no wonder that the vaccines developed by preeminent research institutes get renowned under the tag of a private company. The AstraZeneca jab was actually developed by scientists from the University of Oxford, a publicly-funded institution, working with scientists from a range of backgrounds, including many educated in state schools. Those scientists had initially wanted to make their vaccine patent-free, before AstraZeneca entered the scene, effectively privatising the research. When millions of volunteers were risking their lives volunteering for vaccine trials, travesties like Johnson and Trump were chalking out a hard plan on deracinating the savings of poor people.
Greed, however, drove Big Pharma companies to privatise vaccines developed with public resources, and patent lifesaving medicines, in an effort to keep a grip on their monopolies. As a result, pharmaceutical giants sold these jabs almost exclusively to rich countries, allowing the UK to secure enough doses to vaccinate its population three times over. What's even more amusing! The UK, US, and the EU – home to the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies – have blocked attempts led by India and South Africa to temporarily waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines. A waiver would, they claimed, hurt “incentives” – or profits, in plain English. AstraZeneca is not the only company making profits. Pfizer is on target to make more than $4bn clear profit this year, and Moderna’s executives are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars based on the company’s rocketing share price.
Now, that the tempestuous slugfest has led these savvy veterans to sit on piles of cash and direct global healthcare, Nature seems to have other plans with the western countries struggling through a third wave and southern ones hardly crossing 5000 deaths.
No matter how advanced we get, we cannot deny it's a tough fight. And we do not know how concerned we should be with so much new and worrisome coming up every day. Even if we keep aside the obvious undisclosed business shenanigans involved, the disease is deadly enough to have killed almost 3 million people across the globe in the 21st century.
It's best to cast off the skepticism over the efficacy of vaccines since they are doing their work for the time being and embrace what we know certainly works-hand washing, keeping distance and wearing masks.
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