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article imageOp-Ed: Virology versus idiots – This pandemic is making a point

By Paul Wallis     Oct 2, 2020 in Science
Sydney - Virology is the forgotten child of biology in so many ways. Virology has been neglected for years. As a sort of poor cousin of genomics, it has received some attention, but now we are seeing how important virology research really is and how valuable.
The pandemic has exposed multiple weaknesses in epidemiology, reporting, and many physical processes. The problem is that this pandemic has been a classic case of so many simultaneous extremes.
Current figures for the pandemic showed that the infection rate is rock solid with an immovable baseline of about 200,000 cases per day worldwide. The total number of cases worldwide is approximately 34,000,000 according to Johns Hopkins. That’s in a period of approximately 7 – 8 months.
At this rate, next year the number will be 68 million. The ongoing strain on economies, public health, and everything else, not to say peace of mind as well, will be extraordinary. The sheer cost and scope of this pandemic to date should be a warning to anyone that things can get drastically worse, very quickly.
The sudden need for vast amounts of research at breakneck speed doesn't exactly help, either. Researchers are being put in a particularly thankless position, having to assess new strains of the virus, track the infection rate, more than the pathology, and virtually do all the required research almost from scratch. This is what happens when you ignore branches of science.
Arguably much worse, the politicisation of the pandemic has also produced some very dodgy things like HCQ, even dodgier urban mythology, and blatant disinformation.
All this drivel has produced some of the greatest medical absurdities in history, with no even remotely plausible excuses at all. HCQ was research in Germany a couple of months after the start of the pandemic and found to be utterly useless. A few months after that, we have the revelation that the president of the United States, no less, is taking this stuff. Can anyone think of a better outcome? This nonsense was inflicted on the public at a time of extreme danger.
The problem with this coronavirus is that it is getting good at infecting people. It is not yet proven that of the new strains are more infectious, however, the fact that the infection rate is remaining extremely high does make a point.
The sheer level of irresponsibility of this type of imbecilic management cannot be overstated. The secondary effects of the virus are particularly nasty, including blood clots, vision loss, strokes, and of course death, presumably just to give people a choice. The management of information on this pandemic has been nothing less than shambolic, and has made the situation much worse than it ever should have been.
Covid-19 timeline: development of a pandemic
Covid-19 timeline: development of a pandemic
Vindicating virology
You may be wondering where any actual science comes into the picture? It should come into the picture at the very start. Any sane response to this pandemic would have included the very basic fact that there was very little information. There was also the problem that a DIY knowledge base which had to be cobbled together as the pandemic progressed.
If you are thinking that this doesn't sound like a particularly efficient process, you're quite right. Virology is one of the less fashionable field of research. It’s extremely demanding work. It involves working with literal tiny snippets of genetic code. You do all this while trying to fill in a lack of knowledge which will probably be the size of multiple NASA databases one bit of information at a time.
The mere fact that so much information has been put together and is now at the point of getting at least basic vaccines in a few months is extraordinary. Despite the hurricanes of criticism, informed and otherwise, this is a major achievement for a science which barely gets the time of day in national research budgets.
Put it this way – It's no thanks to political publicists, anti-vaccination idiots, rabid ideologues, or anyone else that any progress at all has been made. It's certainly no thanks to half-witted pseudoscientists, either. This level of achievement has happened despite a planet full of absolute ignoramuses in authority.
If you were to ask the question "How many idiots does it take to fix a pandemic?", The short answer would be "A lot fewer." It's an interesting, if repulsive, double standard that you expect science to fix your problems and then take pride in being totally ignorant of all types of science.
The vindication of virology has a long history. Everybody gets viruses. The accepted response for about 40 years has been that it can't be treated, simply because it is a virus. We have two generations of almost total non-achievement in this regard, notwithstanding the influenza vaccine.
Now, when viruses are on the rampage, as predicted decades ago by many epidemiologists, the picture is becoming a lot clearer.
Let me explain –
1. Viruses are everywhere. They are even in human genome.
2. They mutate on a regular basis in multiple generations per week.
3. Because they mutate on a regular basis, there is a real risk of any virus turning feral.
4. Viruses can jump from species to species. (That's a lot of species.)
5. Coronavirus is, in particular, are well-known for their high level of infectiousness. The common cold, in fact, it is a coronavirus.
6. The SARS virus, another coronavirus, was the first warning of the very high risks of this class of virus.
7. COVID-19 has a very mixed track record. While the virrus is believed to have started in China there is evidence that it was present in Barcelona months earlier. (Even the political narrative about this virus is wrong.)
8. Tracking the movement and spread of viruses is critical to managing those viruses.
9. The viruses don't vote. There is no sane basis for politicising a massive public health risk.
10. This particular virus has a very nasty pathology. It took some months to discover that the virus can replicate itself throughout the body and cause serious damage.
11. PR-based scientific research is achieving nothing. There's been a lot of criticism of the "flawed" research recently due to rushing things and putting more emphasis on publicity than factual information.
Okay, from the look of those points you may have noticed that absolutely everything was done wrong regarding this pandemic right from the start. The only things that went right were done in the countries have managed to shut down the virus before it could really get established.
Now let's imagine a very simple scenario – What if another virus emerges? It will, sooner or later. Do we need properly funded, agile, highly responsive research? Do we need governments to let the experts get on with their work? Would not having tens of millions of infected people be a good idea?
The bottom line is this – Virology has been ignored to the extent that we now have a major global disaster in progress. Competent people have been sidelined, from epidemiologists and immunologists to the poor souls trying to do the reporting accurately.
That's vindication. You couldn't wish for a more all-encompassing proof of the critical nature of virology in modern medicine and science. I'm pretty sure that most virologists would wish that the vindication hadn't come in this appalling form, but there it is.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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