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One year of COVID-19: What have we learned?

Last Updated Mar 17, 2021 at 12:42 pm PDT

FILE - This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Summary

Expert says COVID-19 pandemic has shown what can happen when quick, significant investments made in science

Major learning experience from pandemic has been how virus, policies can negatively impact marginalized communities

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Question:

It’s been a full year since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, changing lives across the globe.

What have we learned in the months since?

Answer:

According to Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious-disease specialist out of Toronto General Hospital, two main lessons have emerged over the last 12 months.

The first: How the pandemic has highlighted inequities in our country.

“Obviously we knew about inequities in Canada and, of course, globally, long before this pandemic. But this pandemic really highlighted those inequities, and we’ve seen how this virus, and even policies to curb this virus, have disproportionately impacted many marginalized communities, either racialized communities or low-income communities,” Bogoch explained.

He says if there’s a lasting legacy or a silver lining to come from this, he hopes it’s that we, as a collective community, don’t “take our eye off the prize.”

“And I hope that we still work towards creating a more equitable Canada,” Bogoch added.

Vaccines development in just months

Another main takeaway from this past year, for Bogoch, is how much science has come through.

“Look what happens when you invest in science,” he says. “Here we had an opportunity to really provide, essentially, unlimited resources to vaccine study. And look what happened: in less than a year we, as a medical and scientific community, have been able to develop successful vaccines and initiate vaccine programs that, quite frankly, are going to bring the world out of this pandemic.”

Delays in rollout and issues with uptake aside, he says the past year has shown that the medical and research communities are able to mobilize in a rapid manner.

Of course, what happened since the beginning of 2020 was built on years of research, however, Bogoch says teams were able to develop reliable vaccines in just a matter of months.

Currently, Canada has approved four vaccines for emergency use: the ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca.

“It was amazing. I mean, you’re just watching the pace of discovery. And the story, for example, of Moderna — from the time these Chinese scientists sequenced the virus and made it publicly available … it took Moderna about two days to basically create the vaccine. It took them two days to do it. Now, of course, it took time to do some of the pre-clinical studies and then do the phase one, phase two, phase three clinical trials, but the technology is so good these days that you can sequence a virus and create a vaccine in that short a time period is nothing short of astounding,” Bogoch explains, adding the learning moments from this year will also help with vaccine development in the future.

While there’s been a lot to learn over the course of 2020 and into 2021, Bogoch notes there are still a number of unknowns that scientists continue to look at.

When it comes to coronaviruses — of which there are many — he says the scientific community has gathered “a lot of new knowledge” to help people understand how it affects our immune systems, how our immune systems respond, and how we can take that information to develop treatments and drugs to fight them, such as vaccines.

As of March 15, Canada had recorded more than 911,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 22,400 deaths.

“The other thing, too, is we’ve learned a lot about clinical manifestations, and I think that’s really interesting, too,” Bogoch explains. “Sadly, when you have millions and millions and millions of people infected with the same virus, we can learn about the severity of illness, the spectrum of illness. We know that although this is a deadly and terrible infection and a terrible pandemic, we also know that, quite frankly, the vast majority of people who get this infection do okay and will recover. But, of course, if you’re 60 and above, the risk of a severe infection is more significant.”

He says the medical community has learned more about various, rare manifestations, such as blood clots, and other more common ones, such as the loss of smell and taste associated with COVID-19.

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