We live in stressful times, but take comfort from the fact that history is punctuated with crises. Have a read of the Bible if you doubt me.
The good news is, without exception, the human species repels the cause of crises, or in the case of this viral epidemic, the virus will mutate into obscurity.
It is, metaphorically speaking, the “pressure makes diamonds” phenomena, or to quote Charles Robert Darwin, “the strongest, and the most willing to adapt, will survive”. It’s a very uneven contest when it’s man versus a virus.
The reality is that in the face of adversity some humans are very strong, and incredibly adaptable, and thus, despite the bumbling efforts of the global politicians and the antivaxxers, this pandemic can be neutralised, and within 12 months, if we follow some very simple rules, and use the right therapeutic options.
Some background first if I may.
Covid is a coronavirus, one of seven coronaviruses known to have infected humans. They’re relatively common.
The two viruses from this family that are best known, as zoonotic epidemics that traversed multiple countries, are Sars in 2003, and Mers in 2012.
Sars was of Chinese extraction, and is generally thought to have jumped from bats or civets to humans. Mers on the other hand was Saudi-based and was largely a Middle Eastern event with the dromedary being the vector.
The important point about both epidemics is they fizzled out, with a bit of human help, but they gave the world an insight into possible remedies for a future coronavirus pandemic.
As is the way with our species there’s always someone, somewhere, doing a PhD, staring down a microscope, studying how a particular virus works or replicates, mapping its genomic sequence, and learning how to neutralise it, usually considering vaccines or alternate therapeutic options.
Remarkably, Pfizer has hit two amazing home runs in the coronavirus field this time round.
I discussed the emergence of mRNA a few weeks ago. The technology involved had of course been bubbling away on two continents since early this century, with clinical trials conducted in prevention of cancers like melanoma, and similar fields, before it dramatically morphed into the commercial opportunity now known as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Since I wrote that article Pfizer has announced a second anti-Covid weapon, a symbiotic “second barrel” weapon used post-infection that will, almost certainly, if used correctly in conjunction with the vaccine, bring this pandemic to an end.
It’s hard to believe how this has evolved, and you cannot understate the significance of this new therapeutic anti-viral drug Paxlovid, a drug known as a protease inhibitor.
This genre of drug has of course been significant in the treatment of Aids and Hepatitis C.
That’s quite some CV right there given that Aids in particular was, according to the usual “prophets of doom” in the media, potentially a catastrophic endemic pan-global disease. For the record, the WHO says HIV/Aids did kill about 35 million people so let’s agree it was a terrible disease, although it’s now largely controlled with good medicine, including protease inhibitors, just as we’ll control Covid.
A protease inhibitor like Paxlovid neutralises the protease enzyme the virus uses to create building blocks from within the human cells, and without that enzyme the virus cannot replicate, it simply cannot rebuild itself and so it must die.
In 2003, in a smallish research and development Pfizer research facility in La Jolla, California, a Pfizer scientist named Rob Karnia was researching anti-viral solutions to the Sars epidemic. When that epidemic expired the research was parked, gathering dust, until 2019 when Covid-19 reared its ugly head.
Incredibly and thankfully, Rob Karnia was still working in that same research facility 20 years on, and that technology was reactivated with urgency last year in response to the Covid pandemic.
A couple of weeks ago Pfizer was at the phase 3 clinical trial stage with this new drug Paxlovid, but the trial was pulled because the efficacy was so amazingly successful, 89 per cent successful, and now the FDA has said it intends licensing that drug for immediate therapeutic use.
Pfizer in turn has licensed multiple third-world drug manufacturers to produce Paxlovid … God bless Pfizer for that kindness given the vulnerability of impoverished third world countries.
In short, the vaccine and the new drug work together like this. You get the vaccine (in my opinion you’re absolutely barking mad if you don’t) and you get approximately 90 per cent protection from hospitalisation, or God forbid, death.
If, however, you were to catch the virus even though you’re vaccinated, yes it can happen but that would be rare, and you take Paxlovid as recommended at the two-to-five day stage of infection, you’re 90 per cent less likely to need hospital treatment.
The math is very basic: 90 per cent vaccine protection leaves 10 per cent risk, but if 90 per cent of the 10 per cent is de-risked by taking Paxlovid we’re looking at a mere 1 per cent of the population being vulnerable and requiring hospitalisation, or of being a potential host for the virus to replicate, or a vector, contingent of course on the vaccine and the Paxlovid protease inhibitor being used correctly and effectively.
This shifts the balance of power hugely in favour of humans, and at first glance this seems to be the end of the road for the virus. The virus won’t be able to reproduce, it’s that simple, it doesn’t have enough hosts to reproduce in if we follow the basic rules. Pandemic over, humanity is safe and yet another plague has been consigned to history.
This self-extinction thing is of course not unusual with viruses.
History is littered with viruses that are extinct, in the wild environment. Some early smallpox strains are extinct, as are many flu strains including the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic.
There is already compelling evidence that the Delta variant is mysteriously mutating into oblivion in Japan, and that Covid is not ravaging central Africa as was largely anticipated.
I should add that being a disciple of human endeavour and our latent brilliance I’m firmly of the view that vaccine technology will grow exponentially anyways over the next year or two, particularly the mRNA technology, and so we may be pleasantly surprised in even less than a year.
The future lies with us, at every level, from government and health agencies, to small and large business.
We must trust the science and do the right thing if we want a return to normal life, the responsibility for mandatory vaccination and prudent use of therapeutic drugs is entirely and totally our responsibility, we need to own that and Pfizer and others have gifted us the opportunity.
My final point.
I’ve been a huge fan of the agencies like the Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency and their strongly pro-Māori vaccination regimes, regimes regrettably obstructed by the MOH. Māori have rightful historical grievances, and an legitimate entitled distrust of old white Pākehā health experts. We undoubtedly owe Māori people protection and preferential health services. It’s now time to insist Māori own their own responsibilities and let strong Māori leaders encourage others toward vaccine-oriented wellbeing.
A sombre footnote to close. According to impeccable Beehive sources, as of Wednesday our Government hadn’t ordered any Paxlovid from Pfizer, or signed a contract to order Paxlovid. Yes it’s unbelievable mismanagement when we’re one of the few first world countries in the world who haven’t embraced this amazing opportunity to stem the virus, so Labour, if you’re reading this, go order that drug.
Do your bit, just as you expect us to, and let’s get back to normal. We don’t want another government-orchestrated shambles like the (lack of) vaccine rollout. You’re our weakest link right now.
And finally, I haven’t addressed the concurrent infodemic, the pandemic of disinformation, or antivaxxers. They’re still potentially quite dangerous because they give the virus an opportunity to replicate.
That info-demic is going to last forever, that’s a function of social media and a warped appetite for the absurd
Whilst most of the rabid infodemic disciples are harmless, it is important that Government, health services, businesses large and small, and local body regulators make the life of these non-conformists untenable. Deny them the right to anything useful: travel, shopping, socialising, events, to play sport, even a visit to the local park.
If they don’t want to be safe members of the society in which we live, they must relinquish their rights to enjoy the things we take for granted in a healthy functioning society.
• Leo Molloy is an Auckland businessman and mayoral candidate.
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