Coronavirus - the debate rages on
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In a global environment where fake news thrives, understanding fact and fiction, is often difficult.
There has been plenty said and written in what has become a blame-game involving governments. Not to mention denial of the virus itself. In some cases, scientists have had their intelligence questioned and captured in terms of fuelling the agenda of politicians.
But, it has not been all talk and little action for the virus, which has affected 218 million people and claimed almost 5-million lives around the world. In South Africa, 82 496 people have died, with 2.79 million active cases, since March 2020, when the pandemic broke in the country.
Conspiracy theorists abound with claims that President Cyril Ramaphosa has used the pandemic to strengthen his grip on his fractured party. In South Africa, we know less about the pandemic. Yet, we remain focused on vaccine rollout.
While, internationally, the debate continues, in the past week, scientists simulated the transition of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein structure from the time it recognises the host cell to when it gains entry.
What the scientists established, according to a study published in non-profit organisation, eLife - the peer-reviewed open access biomedical and life sciences journal - was that the model of SARS-CoV-2 dynamics shows an opportunity to prevent COVID-19 transmission. The research reveals that a structure enabled by sugar molecules on the spike protein could be essential for cell entry, and that, disrupting this structure, could be a strategy to halt virus transmission.
In another positive step, on August 23, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. It will be marketed as Comirnaty (koe-mir’-na-tee), for the prevention of COVID-19 disease in individuals 16 years of age and older. The vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorisation (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age, and for the administration of a third dose - a booster shot that provides an extra layer of protection - in certain immuno-compromised individuals.
“The FDA’s approval of this vaccine is a milestone, as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. While this and other vaccines have met the FDA’s rigorous, scientific standards for emergency use authorization, as the first FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine, the public can be very confident that this vaccine meets the high standards for safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality the FDA requires of an approved product,” said Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D.
“While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instil additional confidence to get vaccinated. Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”
Yet, the US has remained a hotbed of hostility and misinformation, a case in point highlighted by the fact that while scientists have been searching for solutions, the former Trump Administration had sought to apportion blame, and labelled the pandemic as a potential biological weapon.
President Joe Biden’s administration seems to want to go down the same track. But a report, last week, by the CIA, commissioned by Biden, found there was inconclusive evidence to support such a theory. Why does this sound familiar? In 1991, US President George Bush Jr., joined at the hip with former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, insisted on going to war against Iraq because of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. They found none.
Similar innuendo during the pandemic has done little to quell the decline in cases or deaths around the world. Beginning in Wuhan, 2019, throughout the world, the death toll has not abated. In a number of countries, it runs into the tens of thousands. The United States has reported 40 million cases and 642 000 deaths. India 32 million and 439 000 deaths. Brazil 21 million cases and 581 000 deaths.
The pandemic is real. And the deaths of millions is of no comfort to the families around the world, while the US digests the news that the virus was unlikely to have been genetically engineered.
The facts of the matter, according to an open letter by former Assistant Secretary, Christopher Ford, attempts to set the record straight by underscoring that in both journalism and policy-making — if not always in politics, or in the sordid world of score-settling by unemployed, second-rate apparatchiks — facts, as well as intellectual integrity, matter.
Describing the errant nonsense written in the last couple of weeks about squabbles inside the U.S. State Department about how to look into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 in the closing weeks of the Trump Administration, Ford wanted to set the record straight, given the plethora of lies, for those who still care about the facts.
Unpacking the squabbling within the State Department about facts before US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announcing that it was “statistically” impossible for SARS-CoV-2 to be anything other than the product of Chinese government manipulation, Ford said the dispute had nothing to do with trying to quash investigation into the origins of the virus, but everything to do with trying to ensure the honesty and intellectual integrity of that investigation into the origins of the virus.
That’s the rub. Still, one is none the wiser about fact or fiction in a world of fantasy where the only reality is espoused by the tears of mourners saying goodbye to their loved ones. Instead of fixing blame, the entire humanity is crying out for the pandemic to be stopped in its tracks.