CHENNAI, India, 27 November 2020
With the year 2020 inevitably ending in the next few weeks, the thought among people all over the world is whether the coming year 2021 will be free of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel Coronavirus (justifiably known as Wuhan virus, as it certainly spread only from Wuhan in China).
In early 2020, many people thought that Covid-19 would be a localized affair in China, but later on, it proved to be a global pandemic.
While the US, European countries, and India were among those heavily impacted by Covid-19, China claimed that it had “conquered” the Covid-19 disease. As transparency is notoriously absent in countries like China and North Korea, till today no one believes that these two countries have freed themselves completely from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The controversy over whether the virus causing Covid-19 leaked out accidentally from a laboratory in Wuhan or was allowed to spread by China, would continue for a long time to come. When the world would one day be out of this Covid-19 crisis, several investigations would be carried out on how the virus really happened. China would be in the centre of such controversies for all time in future.
While Covid-19 has caused great sufferings and death of many thousands of people, another worst impact is that the confidence of the world community that the world could be made a healthy place due to scientific advancements has been badly shaken.
Of course, due credit should be given to the medical research agencies and pharmaceutical companies for having initiated massive research efforts to find a vaccine to prevent infection by Covid-19. However, the nearly ten months of research efforts have still not yielded adequately reliable and positive results. While the world community is grateful to the medical researchers, the inner feeling among the cross section of people is that may be science and research have limitations. Nobody can say anything conclusively on this at this stage.
Now, the uppermost question is as to what is in store for the world in 2021. While everyone wishes that science should defeat the Covid-19 virus, everyone is keeping their fingers crossed, with feelings of very high anxiety.
In the absence of a proven treatment, some effective preventive solutions have been implemented such as wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing. While the governments declared lockdowns to prevent the spread of the virus, and many people observed the guidelines such as wearing masks etc., everyone knows that this cannot be the ultimate solution.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has become conspicuous due to several of its failures, such as not forewarning the world and issuing frequently contradictory statements, and poor leadership have been thoroughly exposed. Today, people do not think that WHO can help in finding a solution to outsmart this dreaded virus.
With much fanfare, US President Trump claimed that hydroxychloroquine could be the drug of choice to treat Covid-19. Some scientists agreed and some disagreed, and finally the faith in hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus has been completely lost.
The next drug suggested was remdesivir, which was supported by several scientists, and many hospitals started prescribing it for Covid patients. Now, WHO has issued a statement that remdesivir is no good for treating Covid-19.
Then, plasma treatment was suggested, and again some scientists agreed and some did not. Now, WHO again issued a statement rejecting plasma treatment.
Thus, medical researchers have been agreeing and disagreeing about the drug for treating Covid-19.
These days, the world has been constantly hearing about the “successful” development of a vaccine to prevent infection by the virus. One company claims 90% success for its vaccine, another one claims 95% success for its vaccine, and a third one claims 70% success. Meanwhile, Russia started claiming that it has developed a vaccine and named it Sputnik, without revealing any detailed data to enable the scientists across the world to verify the claims. Meanwhile China, as usual, has claimed success in development of vaccines and nobody knows whether it has really done it.
The highest matter of concern about the claimed success of the vaccine is that several acknowledged and prescribed stages for testing the efficacy of the vaccine have been bypassed. While it is known that clinical trials conducted properly would take around 5 to 6 years, success of vaccine has been claimed after conducting trials just for three to four months.
It is very well known that the same drug or vaccine has different levels of positive or adverse impact on people living in different climatic conditions, with different food habits and in different age groups. Many people think that announcing success rates for developed vaccines without worldwide clinical trials for adequate periods is not only a calculated risk, but could also be termed unethical.
However, given the desperate conditions that the world faces today, nobody wants to raise the shortened clinical trial as an issue, and everyone is hoping against hope that the calculated risk of using these vaccines would be at an acceptable level.
One has to keep in view the fact that in the last several years, a number of drugs which have been approved and used after elaborate clinical trials have been later on proved to be harmful and banned. The world is hoping that the vaccine developed for Covid-19 will not have a similar fate.
The question haunting everyone as the year 2021 will dawn is whether the introduced new vaccines may do more harm than good due to hitherto unknown side effects. People silently wonder whether an unfortunate situation would develop when the year 2021 would become the victim of hastily developed vaccines to prevent Covid-19, just as the world became the victim of Covid-19 itself in 2020.
The worldwide consensus now appears to be that the crisis is so serious that every possible solution should be tried to save humanity, irrespective of the cost and risk involved.
While the world prays that year 2021 should be free of Covid-19, the world also prays that the developed vaccines should work successfully.
The desperate world is now praying to God to help humanity out of this crisis. Is there any other way?
About the author
NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice for the Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden, and working for probity in public life.
More articles by NS Venkataraman on Tibet Sun.