“Even with a vaccine we will not stop the crisis,” says top virologist Peter Piot. Moreover, it is hoped that no other virus will appear in the meantime.
As co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and his pioneering role in the United Nations in the field of HIV, Peter Piot is a world authority for viruses. But even a top expert like Piot was surprised by covid-19. “One of my regular speeches is called ‘are we ready for the next pandemic?’ The answer was ‘no’. But I had not thought about a corona virus, but a new flu virus. So I was not quite right,” says Piot, who is director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Since May, he has also been a corona advisor to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 71-year-old Piot knows better than anyone what the consequences of the infection with covid-19 mean since he became infected and became seriously ill in March. But in the meantime, it is again very busy for Piot, who came to Belgium for an interview with Von der Leyen and was appointed by Solvay as honorary chairman of the solidarity fund that the chemical group had set up for workers affected by the crisis.
As co-discoverer of the Ebola virus and his pioneering role in the United Nations in the field of HIV, Peter Piot is a world authority for viruses. But even a top expert like Piot was surprised by covid-19. “One of my regular speeches is called ‘are we ready for the next pandemic?’ The answer was ‘no’. But I had not thought about a coronavirus, but a new flu virus. So I was not quite right,” says Piot, who is director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Since May, he has also been a corona advisor to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. 71-year-old Piot knows better than anyone what the consequences of the infection with covid-19 mean since he became infected and became seriously ill in March. But in the meantime, it is again extremely busy for Piot, who came to Belgium for an interview with Von der Leyen and was appointed by Solvay as honorary chairman of the solidarity fund that the chemical group had set up for employees affected by the crisis. this pandemic? PETER PIOT. “Today, roughly 100 million people are infected. That means that almost 8 billion others are not yet infected. For a virus like this, that is fantastic, a party. It can still infect billions of people. That means that this is just the beginning of This crisis is. We’re not going to get out of it without vaccines, and even with a vaccine we’re not going to be able to stop it. Now, I’m not a doomsayer, but maybe something else will come along. ”Another virus on top of covid- 19 and flu? PIOT. “Another virus, yes. That can always happen. We have come to a period where we will see more and more epidemics due to the pressure of the growing population on the ecosystem, the increasing interaction between animals and humans and the growing mobility.” the good news? PIOT. “In Europe, most countries have managed to significantly slow down the spread by means of draconian measures. Although elimination is not successful. Even New Zealand, which has completely closed itself off, is not succeeding. smallpox. “We also know better how to deal with someone who is ill, that we should protect residential care centers, test more and so on. Getting infected will be less dramatic, and I don’t expect us to go back to a lockdown either. The economy would not survive. “A lot is expected from the vaccines against covid-19. Too much? PIOT.” I am quite optimistic about a vaccine. You and I will be vaccinated in a year, and hopefully sooner. But those vaccines will not protect 100 percent. The US FDA has said that 50 percent protection is good enough until further notice. Such a vaccine will probably protect against serious illness and death. The same goes for the flu vaccine, which mainly protects against pneumonia and death. But if you think it will fix everything and we can go back to the pre-crisis situation, you expect too much. A vaccine will not prevent some of the behaviors in our society from being permanently different. Shaking hands is most likely a thing of the past. We get a new culture like in Japan where you wear a mask when you have a cold or a snot nose, to protect others. Here it is considered a violation of the individual, but we will have to adapt as a society. “There are four technologies to develop vaccines. Will one be more efficient than the other? PIOT.” Some vaccines may not work and some will. Some may have side effects, some may not. In any case, we cannot take a shortcut for such a vaccine. Hopefully we will have an idea at the end of October or the beginning of November whether the first vaccines will work, although I expect it to be early next year. And then we have to make sure there are no side effects. You inject biological material into millions, possibly billions of people. You cannot take risks. That takes time. “Suppose the first vaccine is 50 percent efficient, but a better one soon follows. Would you wait? PIOT.” It would be if I were absolutely sure that it will come soon and is better, but that is not the case . One of the biggest challenges of this epidemic is uncertainty. We don’t know what will work. Although it is unlikely that the first generation of vaccines will be the ideal. These vaccines will continue to be tinkered with to make them more efficient. “Is a vaccine that is nearly 100 percent effective? PIOT.” We know that is possible. The measles or polio vaccines are 90 percent or more effective. The big question is whether the vaccine will only prevent death and disease, or whether it will also prevent infection. The latter would be ideal. Hopefully we will know by the end of this year. “Is group immunity a possible strategy? PIOT.” Hearth or group immunity is an option that has shaped the future of epidemics for centuries, because they did not have the resources we have now. With millions of deaths as a result. I do not think this is ethically acceptable in the 21st century. That would amount to a massacre of the elderly and other vulnerable groups. We have to achieve herd immunity through vaccination as soon as possible, because a vaccine protects not only the vaccinated, but the entire community. “Do you expect covid-19 to evolve into a seasonal virus? PIOT.” That could be. When it is colder, we all sit inside more often, with closed windows, in periods when there are already more colds and flu. That will cause the virus to continue to simmer, and flare up regularly. “Re-infections are also emerging. PIOT.” It still seems rare, but that could increase. We do not know. It could be that someone who has been more seriously ill has better immunity than someone who was infected but showed little or no symptoms. We can also hope for cellular immunity, a basic immunity that makes you unlikely to get sick if you get infected again. In Singapore, people were examined who were infected with SARS, a similar virus, in 2003. They had no antibodies but possibly cellular immunity. It’s a hypothesis. “Should we be concerned about vaccine nationalism? PIOT.” Yes. It is not overridden. And Europe has really done something right there. You first saw it in the United States with President Donald Trump, who wanted to keep all vaccines produced in the US for Americans. In Europe there was the initiative of Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy, who wanted to do something similar. The other European countries were not happy with that. If every country wants to do it only for itself, it will not work. Then the weakest are completely ignored. Now they are working together, and the European Commission also supports Covax, an initiative of the World Health Organization to purchase vaccines for poorer countries. We see this nationalism not only for vaccines, but also for Gilead’s drug remdesivir, which slows down the virus and of which America has bought almost the entire stock. “Do you expect that there will be another very effective drug against covid-19? PIOT. “Yes. A lot of good research is going on, about which we will probably know more at the end of this year. Meanwhile, the mortality of hospitalized patients is declining. There is more experience. Hospitals know when to ventilate and they now give dexamethasone with ventilation and corticosteroids and anticoagulants (anti-coagulants) that increase the chance of survival. Although the virus remains the devil. “Corona fatigue has been around for some time. Many young people, but also the elderly, no longer listen to the advice.PIOT.” If everyone follows the rules, we would not have these problems. But that is not the case. The red lights are flickering. This new surge worries me. We should not postpone difficult decisions. I am less concerned about elementary schools, but I am concerned about mass events involving young people who, as a result, re-infect the elderly. “Has our society’s lack of resilience to covid-19 surprised you? PIOT.” I thought that the developed countries would certainly be better armed. I hadn’t thought about the impact on the economy, or what it means to close schools, or the impact on mental health that has led to a tens of percent increase in divorce rates and much more intimate partner violence. “What can we do? learning from the foreign approach? PIOT. “Most countries have been too slow, not only Belgium. But no one has ever faced such a problem. That’s why I’m quite lenient with those in charge. Even though countries like Germany or Denmark have done better than others. Germany, for example, started mass testing very early, works very decentralized and has a chancellor who has been a scientist. Anyway, there was a sort of ranking of how well prepared countries were for such a pandemic. And which countries were at the top? The United States, where it is now total chaos, and the United Kingdom, which has done much worse than Belgium. “The most important lesson is that it can happen again. We need to invest heavily in systems that detect an outbreak quickly. We need to having a fire brigade and hoping it will never have to turn out. But convincing a government and society to invest in something that may never be needed is very difficult. The health care budget is increasing every year. But that’s for people who are ill Spending money for people who are not yet sick is very difficult to sell. ” Do you see life differently after your illness? PIOT. “Absolutely. I’m trying to live a healthier life. I’m doing more fitness, going for a walk every morning and paying more attention to my food and drink. And I appreciate life a lot more.”
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