further LESSONS learned from the COVID-19 pandemic – part II

July 20, 2022, part II of III

written by Dr. Jörg Baumann and Dr. Sabine Breun

Started in February 2020, the SAJO blog is providing a thread through the pandemic with up-to-date information and suggestions around SARS-CoV-2.

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Dear readers,

What lessons did we learn over the past 30 months? The following is a short – and necessarily incomplete – selection, part II of the series.

Hint: To this topic, Science published an extra edition. Please inform yourself: These are THE SCIENTIFIC FACTS.

Our selection is based on observation, scientific know how, and common sense.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Neither Karl Lauterbach nor Christian Drosten were responsible for the pandemic with all its consequences in Germany. They were simply the bearers of bad news. To vilify them is just an empty-headed reaction. (In other countries this happened as well – we just want to mention the heroic Tony Fauci).

The sole trigger of this pandemic was the virus SARS-CoV-2.

There are too many people and institutions responsible to be named for the rampant course of this pandemic. Beginning with China, the pandemic’s place of origin. The Chinese government hushed up the findings and silenced the medics and scientists who dared to warn their international colleagues. Then, instead of issuing an immediate warning call the World Health Organization (WHO) dragged their feet for weeks. Several influential politicians in North and South America belittled the pandemic.

In Western countries, lawyers put in all their might to fight against vaccination campaigns and masking mandates stating the violation of civil liberties. Thus, they actively prevented to at least slow the pandemic down.

In the end however, it is every one of us being responsible, since the ongoing exponential growth of the human population, the misbelief in steady economic growth, and our compulsive urge to consume, are leading to a global annihilation of naturally grown landscapes.

That is why many viruses (and other pathogens) come into contact with us. The question is not IF there will be another pandemic, but WHEN! It is just a matter of time. Climate change and global warming are aggravating this trend.

By now, this should be clear to anyone.

Selfishness rules, on the individual as well as international level

There are numerous examples of individual egotism. We are narrowing it down to several extremes. One example would be the hoarding of stuff, in Germany mostly bathroom tissue, pasta, and flour. Intriguingly, other countries experienced other ways of hoarding, in France people preferred to hoard wine and cheese, while Italians preferred wine. The preferences aside, this just shows the individual egotism.

There were no shortages of food and necessary items at any time.

More serious consequences were due to campaigns of anti-vaxxers and opponents of masking. If an individual refuses to get vaccinated, so be it, but with all the consequences.

If, however, people see the donning of a mask as an interference with their individual freedom, this is just absurd.

An N95 mask is your ticket to an (almost) easy-going everyday life. Now, the hypocrisy of these people comes to light: While insisting on their liberty to not don a mask, now they are harassing people choosing the liberty to don a mask. This is how they are showing their true and ugly face.

On an international level a lot of selfishness was to be seen, too. The US prohibited the export of vaccines. They may do this to make sure their own population is profiting from a home-made vaccine. However, if they block the export of vaccines that had been manufactured in Europe, only to be packaged in the US, this is not acceptable. The producing companies didn’t mind since their vaccines instead were sold for a good price in the US.

There were no shortages of vaccines at any time.

Countries in the EU (with Germany leading the way) used their financial power to buy huge amounts of vaccine doses. Hoarding, anyone? Poorer countries were left out. Lots of these vaccines in the end were not needed, and were simply destroyed, instead of giving them to countries in need of vaccines before they expired. The rich nations indeed made some good friends globally. We are appalled.

Pandemics are highlighting the weaknesses of the globally interconnected economic system

If certain parts of machines, vehicles, equipment are produced exclusively in places where cheap labor makes cheap prices, this shows the greed of producers for the best possible profit, the unscrupulousness of the local exploiters, and the ignorance of consumers.

It is dangerous to relocate the full production of drugs into a single country. Should problems arise there, the world is in short supply of specific medications.

The “just in time” principle is risky. It reduces storage capacity at the place of final construction. But if only one part is being delayed, the whole production comes to a stand-still.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has illustrated this yet again, but will economy and politics learn? We don’t see this. Economy and politics are stubbornly heading into the next pandemic.

Misinformation is spreading faster and easier than scientific facts

There are not only the social and asocial media to be blamed for, but unfortunately the trustworthy media as well. In Germany, the newspaper publishers decided to hide their well-researched articles on COVID-19 behind a paywall. Not every single household can afford several newspaper subscriptions.

Hence, many people are getting information via the internet, where misinformation is rampant, and free of charge. In the UK and the US, COVID-19 related press articles were published free of charge.

German media outlets simply wanted to make money. This greed leaves us speechless.

In Germany, each household is legally obligated to pay a fee to support the public broadcasting of radio and TV, which have the duty to inform and educate the audience.

However, we only see a minimal amount of sincere news and well researched reporting.

An example is given by the daily 8 pm news on Channel 1, with a meager selection of real news, more than often leaving out specific topics, but covering half of its time with sports results. In the meantime, the pandemic development no longer is news, although it is gaining traction this summer, a worrying trend.

It seems the news now only serve as entertainment for the people.

The daily program is completed with a lot of rubbish TV shows and the so-called German Schlagermusik, the level cannot sink any deeper. For such a “service” every household has to pay. This money could be better invested in other areas.

Dear readers,

Finally, we want to give an update on pandemic numbers:

The Johns Hopkins University is tallying more than 565 million infections and more than 6.7 million new infections per week, with a climbing tendency.

The USA, France, Germany, and Italy are leading the list of new infections. Germany alone counted 660,000 new cases last week. Numbers are increasing. The same goes for death rates.

The variant BA.5 shows a tendency to overcome immunity. For individuals with a stronger immune response and within a population with a high level of immunity, the virus is less deadly. Hence, vaccination does protect from severe cases and death. However, the trend observed indicates that the protection by vaccines is waning.

A previous infection with other subtypes does not protect from the newly emerging ones.

BA.5 and other new variants are able of transmission even outdoors. Thus, it would be advisable to wear N95 masks in the outdoors where there is no airflow and if there is no possibility to keep a distance from each other. 3 ft. may not be sufficient, and the virus is transmitted in a short time of private conversation.

Keep your eyes open! Get information through reputable channels. Don’t be careless even in summer. It is time to re-impose some of the measures. Personally, we are donning N95 masks when interacting with others in the outdoors. This is advisable when shopping, in markets, in pedestrian zones, and in streets where a protective distance cannot be maintained.

This is wrapping up part II of our mini-series on lessons learned (if you want to) from the (still ongoing!) pandemic. Stay tuned for the 3rd installment coming up soon.

Stay healthy and take care!

Yours, Joerg and Sabine

Dr. Joerg Baumann and Dr. Sabine Breun, both PhDs, virologists, immunologists and founders of SAJO. Both are specialized in infectious diseases. Since the 90s, Dr. Baumann has been working on zoonoses and how pathogens overcome the species barrier. Since 2000, Dr. Breun works on the interaction of viruses with the immune system. Both work as a team, have international experience and reputation. SAJO enables new antivirals – antivirals of the next generation to fight pandemics.

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