The year 2020 caused heavy losses as people lost loved ones due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Many have fallen ill and some still suffer. Some even lost the small businesses they had built over decades. We almost all have lost the hugs, visits, travel, the joy of gathering and much more. However, the last year taught us a lot, and the months of 2021 still do as well. It may seem strange that the coronavirus pandemic has offered some positive things, although it will not diminish our continued suffering to be acknowledged. Perhaps we will go further and learn about these positives to increase the chance that our society will emerge from this ordeal more capable, more resilient and more prepared for the future.
Remarkably, we got the corona vaccine very quickly. The previous record for developing vaccines was four years and that was in the sixties of the last century. This time, many good corona vaccines have been developed in less than a year — luck may have bought us some of that speed. For example, HIV is known to be difficult to get vaccinated against and we still do not have a vaccine for it! Here we have followed the development of technologies that the Pfizer and Moderna (messenger RNA) vaccines relied on, which is a historic, scientific and technological achievement. Now research centres are coding vaccines (the evolution in the messenger of DNA) and thanks to advances in science and industrial production, they can be mass-produced and figured out how to deliver them to our cells in a matter of months. I am sure that in the near future we will have vaccines for many other diseases that have eluded us and humanity may finally reach a new set of tools to better fight cancer.
On the other hand, in terms of what we are seeing during this pandemic, technology has also shown how we can make our society function better in normal times. Work has changed and suddenly thousands in our community and millions of people around the world have had to figure out how to get things done without going to office. Thus, many events became more comprehensive — if I can say so. Over the past year, many of us have managed to attend conferences and talks that we never had a chance to participate in without having the time to do so, not to mention the travel costs.
In a way I think the most important thing here, during the pandemic and its difficult year, promoted a lot of open, fast and collaborative scientific activities, which included methods of cooperation unimaginable among researchers even a few decades ago.
Realistically — and I may say so — what we need to change today is how we relate to science, not try to return to a slow, balanced pre-pandemic world. We should embrace the extraordinary and robust process of open science and further review of studies and plans.
The pandemic occurred at a time when medical, digital and possibly social dynamics and advancements converged, revealing enormous positive potential for people. True, nothing will erase the losses that we have suffered, but this terrible period has pushed towards radical improvements in human life, thanks to new biotechnologies and greater experience in the positive aspects of digital communication. Undoubtedly, coronavirus has caused huge losses, but it has brought with it some blessings!
Dr Yousuf Ali al Mulla, MD, Ministry of Health, is a medical innovator and educator. For any queries regarding the content of the column he can be contacted at: email@example.com