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Becoming proactive only way to protect humanity against itself

Sometimes the planets simply align.

And sometimes the view one gets when that happens is quite unveiling and positive. Other times not so much.

At the beginning of this month, give or take a day or two, an online friend who had been sharing a few guffaws with me over some of the conspiracy theories floating around on social media concerning Covid-19 and the vaccines produced to defend against it suddenly turned our conversation serious.

He asked me if I thought society was learning enough — or anything at all for that matter — in our battle against Covid-19 to be prepared for the next pandemic, which today feels a lot more like 'when' rather than 'if' it arrives.

A few days later an article by Peter Dockrill that was being distributed by Microsoft News caught my attention and led me to a couple of other research-paper-like reads. None of it was very encouraging.

The big problem is that a number of scientists were more than a little concerned with what they saw as humanity's reckless and egotistical thrusts into nature.

To them it almost seemed as if humanity thought it had some sort of magical power to ward off or destroy the numerous pathogens within the animal kingdom that we grew — and continue to grow — ever closer to releasing upon the world.

At this point I'd be remiss if I did not point out that, as Dockrill said, the precise origins of SARS-CoV-2 remain unclear, although something of this nature was bound to happen as we continue to chew into every resource available on this planet to sustain the ever-growing numbers of humans.

But what's truly unnerving is that no one paid attention to the warning bells being sounded by the scientific community to begin with and now, after more than a year battling Covid-19, we've learned precious little and are no more prepared for what might come next than we were before the present onslaught.

Co-author scientists Dennis Burton and Eric Topol from Scripps Research in San Diego, Calif., noted in a recent commentary that was published in Nature that governments and the private sector need to begin investing now in the research and development of protective proteins that are effective against multiple strains of a virus so that we might have a front-line defence against viruses in a given family, including new lineages or strains that have not yet emerged.

The scientists point out that, believe it or not, we were quite lucky with Covid-19 in that the viral particle's molecular architecture actually made vaccine design easier.

We might not be as lucky when the next virus pops up. In fact, the odds are not at all in our favour. When all is said and done, valued readers, we ducked a big one this time around and we're not out of the woods yet by a long shot.

In fact, one of the new variants that are popping up could be put together in such a way that making effective vaccines against them could take a great deal longer to make than what was required for the original dominant strain.

Burton and Topol claim one way to get ahead of this would be to “develop pan-virus vaccines, designed around broadly neutralising antibodies that could individually target priority viruses, including potentially SARS-CoV–2 variants, HIV, influenza subtypes, ebola, MERs, and others.”

The catch? To reach phase I trials, investment per virus would most probably be in the neighbourhood of US$100 million to US$200 million over several years.

However, one must keep in mind that Covid-19 is causing financial havoc to the tune of trillions of dollars in damage done.

The gist is, we're going to be in a world of hurt if we don't soon start to get proactive in this battle rather than reactive.

As the two authors said, "We will have outbreaks in the future, and are very likely to see further epidemics. We must stop these becoming pandemics." This is likely the only way moving forward that humanity has to successfully protect itself against its own greed.