The unknowns of the coronavirus, nine months later

Science and technology still try to unravel many unknowns of the unknown virus that managed to paralyze the entire world

Nine months after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic that has unleashed the worst crisis of the century, scientific evidence is accumulating from unprecedented research, but science and technology are still scrutinizing many unknown aspects about the coronavirus and its effects.

Much is already known, but much also remains to be discovered, and as the main objective the development of a vaccine and several “candidates” have already passed preclinical tests (in animals) and have already passed to clinical trials of safety and efficacy in humans.

But it is the research that has also shown that previous experiences in the development of vaccines against other viruses (such as SARS-CoV or MERS-CoV, very similar to SARS-CoV-2 ) revealed the potentially harmful effects not desired in the immune system, so conclusive and comprehensive testing is necessary before launching a global vaccine.

Fifty researchers from the Higher Council for Scientific Research have reviewed the scientific literature that has been generated during the pandemic to radiograph the scientific evidence that has already been demonstrated and what are the main lines of research that are being followed to combat and stop this crisis.

Certainty: like other human coronaviruses, the reservoir of this virus is bats and from these, it jumped to an “intermediate” animal (everything points to the pangolin ) to reach the human species.

Scientific challenge: to know in depth the ecology of emerging infectious diseases, especially those in which animals can be a reservoir for viruses (vertebrates such as bats) or vectors of their transmission (mosquitoes).

Among the accumulation of evidence, scientists have corroborated that there are no foods or food supplements that prevent, treat or cure Covid-19 infection and that there cannot be any product on the market with such statements.

Or that in order to contain infectious diseases and combat these crises, complementary non-pharmacological measures are necessary, and among them new technologies (mobile and internet) to generate massive and real-time data on mobility, symptoms or tracking, as well as measures of containment of the epidemic (quarantine, social distance or use of masks).

The challenge, in this technological and legal case, is that the voluntary transfer of personal data by citizens always complies with the strict protection regulations, that the anonymity of all information is ensured and that errors and errors are minimized. biases in the data.

After the uncertainties of the first months, today it is known with certainty where and how the virus is transmitted, which according to scientists allows the design of containment actions without having to resort to drastic situations such as global confinement; that the prognosis is much worse in men than in women; and that the epidemic in Spain was not caused by a “patient 0” but there was a large exchange of cases with neighboring countries.

Scientific evidence is also that children generally have less serious infections than adults and in a high percentage are asymptomatic, although also that zero risk does not exist and that cases with serious consequences have already been registered, but there is no consensus. on the ability to infect that children have compared to adults.

Science has proven the usefulness of masks, both single-use and reusable; or the importance of its “adjustment” to avoid leaks that reduce its efficiency.

And now it is turning its efforts into developing biodegradable materials that improve the prophylactic capacity of the masks, that prevent the entry of the virus and incorporate “viricides” in the filters, but also that contribute to preventing the massive use of these protectors from becoming a serious environmental problem.

Science has proven that the main source of contagion is the drops and aerosols that people emit when talking, coughing, or breathing and that viruses can adhere to other particles from pollution, airborne dust, or tobacco smoke, but the scientific literature is not yet conclusive on how long the virus remains active on a surface.

The challenge is to turn the surfaces most at risk into “allies” of this and future pandemics and to be able to provide these surfaces with antiviral and self-cleaning properties.

Since the crisis began, many drugs already authorized for other indications have been repositioned, which has been an advantage since many of their aspects related to their toxicity or side effects were already known ( grazoprevir, redeliver, or the combination of lopinavir and ritonavir ).

But the priority, according to the report prepared by the CSIC, is to develop new and effective antiviral and broad-spectrum drugs to combat SARS-CoV-2, and in the long term to have multiple drugs available to combat the increasingly frequent epidemics caused by the viruses that are plaguing humanity.

The knowledge of the disease has evolved a lot during the last nine months and with it, the ways of approaching its symptoms to prevent the most serious effects, and research is already turning to the many sequelae it can leave (pulmonary, cardiac, neurological, and cognitive). ), from permanent loss of smell to stroke or encephalitis.

Obtaining a vaccine is the main objective, and although technology has evolved a lot in recent decades, this effort is usually long, CSIC scientists have corroborated, and they have found that the development of a vaccine usually takes an average of ten years, although the terms have been speeded up and accelerated in this case due to the global urgency caused by the pandemic.

There are almost 200 projects that have been activated in the world to achieve this, although very few still have entered phase III (last before obtaining a license and starting to be administered); one of the most advanced, the one developed by the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, has interrupted the trials due to the effects suffered by one of the volunteers.

Among the most advanced are those developed by the American pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer; those investigated by the Chinese companies CanSino Biologicals, SinoPharm, and Sinovac; that of the German BioNtech; or those of the Russian research centers Vektor and Gamaliel.

The scientific consensus confirms that the first vaccines to reach the market will be effective, but also that the next generations of vaccines will be better because the laboratories will already have more information on the immune response.

And among the short-term challenges, knowing if the joint administration of the vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 and against influenza can reduce its effectiveness and how long the protection can last.

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