Whilst battling to stay afloat in the current, trepid waters of quarantined life, have you found yourself having more time to actually stop, assess and reflect upon how lucky you really are and how much you have been taking life for granted, especially here in the UAE? The stresses and worries that this biological pandemic has thrown at us, is unprecedented in our lifetime. However now, we need to arm ourselves with suitable coping mechanisms and healthy habits which will disarm this dangerous intruder. We must strive to ensure that we are not taking the positive gifts life has bestowed upon us
for granted – even the little things like the grin on your mom’s face when you compliment her new dress or the feeling of coming home after a long, overwhelming day and being able to pounce straight into bed. Ultimately, this piece is a reminder to society; appreciate what you have, live life to the fullest, and be grateful for the simpler things in life, because in the future, you could be the one who falls victim to this villainous virus.

Figure 1. Diagram of RNA Virus

Day after day, across all channels, there is so much media coverage and at times, “fake news” reverberating around. I wanted to discover and subsequently share some trusted scientific facts with you, which will deepen your understanding of this dangerous pathogen. Having conducted widespread background research, I unearthed some useful, and reliable content from a widely admired and published UAE consultant at an esteemed local hospital. What I found to be very interesting about his article is the fact that he explores the actual biological science behind the virus. He explains that the SARS-CoV-2 consists of one strand of RNA, surrounded by a capsid (which is a protein coat) and then an envelope that is covered in receptors which target specific cells, in this case, the pulmonary ones. A common misconception he addresses about viruses is that they are thought to be living. However, viruses are nonliving because they cannot reproduce on their own. A virus takes control of the host cell’s nucleus and metabolism, altering its genetic code, forcing the cell to produce more viruses. Eventually when the virus multiplies and there are too many in one cell, this leads to the cell exploding, causing the symptoms of COVID19.

Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. For example, the HIV virus causes AIDS and the rubeola virus causes measles. So, where did the name forthis virus originate from? Well, the virus was previously named 2019-nCoV. This name was chosen because the virus was genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the outbreak of SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012. Now in 2020, the Covi marks the family of viruses that this pathogen is derived from. D is an abbreviation of the word disease and 19 marks the year (2019) when the virus was identified. Furthermore, any strand of Coronavirus also gets its name from the crown-like halo or corona that is visible when the virus is viewed under an electron microscope.

Figure 2. Diagram of SARS-CoV-2

It has been over two months now since the World Health Organisation (WHO) labelled the virus a pandemic or in other words, a disease that has spread worldwide and had a profound effect on society. In response to this, governments all over the world employed quarantines on their respective citizens to reduce the spread of this contagious disease and to flatten the ‘so called’ curve. Politicians attempted to stop the exponential growth of the virus by social distancing people or groups who didn’t have symptoms but were exposed to the sickness. But what is the scientific reasoning behind social distancing and quarantining?

Is it going to delay or end the spread? An interesting article in the Washington Post recently posited that it is almost impossible to completely seal off the sick population from the healthy. We need frontline workers to care for, medicate and test people, otherwise how would the curve ever flatten or possibly go into decline? A health expert in the article suggests that avoiding public gatherings or large groups is one of the most effective ways to curb the spread. Additionally, if we can keep the movement of people to under 10% of a given population in an area, it will successfully, over time, flatten the curve. Scientifically speaking, the numbers of those recovered and healthy will far outweigh those infected or carrying therefore buying time for scientists to discover a suitable and reliable vaccine. This has been a ploy undertaken by the ruling body here in the UAE and statistics are showing that extensive distancing will become the most effective method of tackling the ever-increasing curb.

How close are scientists or immunologists to finding a ‘cure’ for the virus? How soon will we all return to ‘normal life’? Well, the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID19, was published on the 11th of January 2020, triggering intense global Research and Development (R&D) activity to develop a vaccine against the disease. The scale of the humanitarian and economic impact of the COVID19 pandemic is driving evaluation of next-generation vaccine technology platforms and the first COVID19 vaccine candidate entered human clinical testing on the 16th of March 2020. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation (CEPI) is busy working with global health authorities and vaccine developers to support the development of vaccines against COVID19. Then, as of the 8th of April, the global COVID19 vaccine R&D landscape included 115 vaccine candidates. 78 of these were confirmed as active or potentially usable. Then, of the 78 mentioned, 73 are currently at exploratory or preclinical stages. The most advanced candidates have recently moved into clinical development and numerous vaccine developers have also indicated plans to initiate human testing in 2020.

A striking feature of the vaccine development landscape for COVID19 is the range of technology platforms being evaluated, including nucleic acid (DNA and RNA), live attenuated viruses and inactivated virus approaches. Many of these platforms are not the basis for licensed vaccines, however experience in fields such as oncology is encouraging developers to exploit the opportunities that next-generation approaches offer for increased speed of development and manufacture. It is conceivable that some vaccine platforms may be better suited to specific population subtypes (such as the elderly, children, pregnant women or immunocompromised patients). The global vaccine R&D effort in response to the COVID19 pandemic is unprecedented in terms of scale and speed. Given the imperative for speed, there is an indication that a vaccine could be available under emergency use or similar protocols by early 2021. This would represent a fundamental change from the traditional vaccine development pathway, which takes on average over 10 years, even compared with the accelerated 5-year timescale for the development of the first Ebola vaccine. It will most likely take strong international coordination and cooperation between vaccine developers, regulators, public health bodies and governments to ensure that promising late-stage vaccine candidates can be manufactured in sufficient quantities and equitably supplied to all affected areas, particularly low-resource regions.

I think that the ultimate takeaway from this invasive disease and the greatest lesson that it has taught us, is that in our globalised world, our lives are so intertwined that the idea of perceiving ourselves as separated (albeit as individuals, communities or uniquely privileged species) is evidence of false consciousness. The truth is that we were always bound together, part of a miraculous web of life on our planet and beyond it, stardust in an unimaginably large and complex universe. It is only the self-cultivated fanciful superiority within us and the habitual hustle and bustle of our daily lives, that blinded us to the awe we ought to feel as we watch a drop of rain splash on a blooming daffodil, or a baby learning to crawl, or the stars in the midnight sky, revealed in all their glory. And now, as we find ourselves in periods of quarantine and isolation as nations, communities, and individuals, all of this should be so much clearer. It has taken a virus to show us that only together, when united regardless of race, religion or gender, are we at our strongest, most alive and most human. It is through struggles and challenges like these, that we are given the opportunity to understand the true meaning of life.

Lara Akiki
Lara Akiki

Member of NLCS Dubai
Deputy chair of NLCS Dubai Medical society

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