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As we start moving towards a lifting of lockdown and potentially exposing ourselves to the infection, it becomes essential to examine these 7 myths about immunity to coronavirus.
As infection with the novel corona virus (nCoV) spreads, one more thing that is spreading, and at a much faster pace, are myths and misinformation about the virus, and the disease it causes; which is familiar to us as COVID-19.
One specific area that has seen a lot of myths and misconceptions come up, is immunity.
Are some of us more immune to this virus? Are there some superfoods or supplements that can help in increasing our immunity? We receive so many vaccines. They will help to protect us from coronavirus? Why is the novel Coronavirus such a huge threat to human beings when we usually have seasonal viral infections that we take in our stride with vaccines and solid treatment? How safe will it be to step out of our safe (?) homes and move out into the community where risk of infection suddenly rises? Will there be a worse wave of COVID-19 by more infections? What do we know about our immunity to the novel Coronavirus? Are there any vaccines or cures around the corner? What should we know before we venture out of the self isolation and quarantine? Are there any magic wands that might be just below the surface?
So many questions. And many answers – some just myths about immunity to coronavirus, some true. How do we separate the grain from the chaff? What should we know?
Let us examine the current knowledge and debunk some of these myths about immunity to coronavirus.
I have been getting my annual influenza vaccines. Surely they will protect against nCoV also; after all it’s just another flu virus.
The nCoV belongs to the same family as the flu virus, and has some broad similarities like the protein spikes on their surface with the common influenza virus. However there are key differences between the genetic material of both, which make the nCoV a distinct disease causing agent. The structure of this virus is different and it it needs its own, specific vaccine which researchers are working on
So, though you must take all shots anyway as recommeneded by your doctor; it won’t protect you against covid-19. There is no vaccine so far against the nCov.
My family received the HiB (H influenza type B) vaccine against pneumonia. That will protect me from getting pneumonia due to corona virus.
No. Haemophilus influenza and pneumococcal vaccine protect against pneumonia caused by specific bacteria. They do not offer any protection against the corona virus.
The BCG vaccine (tuberculosis vaccine) that is used in India, and which we have all recieved, also gives protection against the coronavirus
When the pandemic was just starting, India had fewer cases and a lower death rates in India, as compared to other countries where BCG vaccination is not done routinely, like China and USA. These early observations were the basis of reports that the tuberculosis vaccine, BCG, afforded some protection against coronavirus.
As the pandemic has evolved, cases in India too rose, following similar curves as in those other countries, indicating that the BCG vaccine does not offer any protection, as the WHO has since declared.
Covid-19 will go away soon, once enough people develop immunity to it, and we can return to our life as we knew it.
Any infection causes the body to produce antibodies against it, which help fight the infection. This is the basis on which vaccination works.
When a significant proportion of a population develops low levels of antibodies and become immune to an infection; it provides an indirect protection to some extent even for the others. This is called community or herd immunity. This ‘significant proportion of the population’ is different for different infections. For coronavirus, it is estimated to be as high as 50 to 70%. This is a very large number, and until this level is reached, there could be large numbers of serious cases and deaths.
Herd immunity, hence, might not be a great strategy to bank on. If the percentages were lower, it would have made sense to let the infection spread, but not as it stands.
Only elderly and those with chronic disease can get sick with the coronavirus. Children especially are immune, and can go about their lives as usual.
There has been some focus on the belief that children are not as affected by the coronavirus but this has been since debunked.
Children certainly seem to have different and milder symptoms than adults, but they can be just as easily affected, and those who have weaker immune systems for any reason could be at serious risk. They are also more likely to transmit the infection more easily because their symptoms are less likely to be identified as COVID-19, which is a worse risk for a community.
New reports also suggest that the pattern of disease in children may vary and young children with fever and swollen neck glands have tested positive for cornavirus. Some doctors have notices a link between coronavirus infection and a generalized illness with involvement of the heart, kidney, eyes and skin. This has been called the PMIS (Pediatric Multisystem inflammatory syndrome) and the link is currently the focus of investigation.
This serves as reminder no one is immune to this disease and that there is much in the biological behaviour of the virus that still remains to be studied.
The coronavirus vaccine is almost here; soon, it will like another flu shot.
Every few days, we see social media updates on a possible coronavirus vaccine. This just means that scientists are working on it, not that the vaccine will be ready in time for us to go out into the world soon.
A need to study behaviour of the virus over time
The first step to an effective vaccine for any disease is understanding the microorganism that causes it and the immune response it produces in our body.
This virus was called novel because it hadn’t been seen or studied in humans before the first cases were reported in November 2019. The full RNA sequence, or its genetic code, which is the basis for many of the vaccine designs, was established in January 2020 and was followed by successful in growing the virus in the laboratory. Since then, work on many potential vaccines has begun across the globe.
Another factor that often influences vaccine development is the frequent mutation of viruses. The coronavirus mutated when it made the shift from animals to humans and human to human transmission began. As infection continues, it may mutate to other forms which can vary across populations and places. It is essential for researchers to work with the latest versions of the virus to ensure efficacy of vaccines.
Vaccine development is a long process for it to be safe and effective
Vaccine development and production typically takes at least 5 years and follows some basic principles. This includes extensive laboratory and pre-clinical testing of the vaccine, both to make sure that it is effective, and that it is safe. Only after that, human clinical trails are ethically permitted, and even that takes some time to get sure results. And then, there are the challenges of virus mutation that might crop up – we don’t yet know how the novel coronavirus will behave over time.
Finally any vaccine will need to pass the necessary regulatory approvals. And a cost-effective way of making large doses of vaccine will also need to be in place before the final vaccine is ready for delivery.
Each of these steps in the vaccine development pipeline faces potential challenges, but given the complexity and magnitude of the task; it will definitely be a long time before we see the results.
There are superfoods and supplements that can help in beating corona virus.
A number of heath foods like garlic, pepper, lemon slices, vitamin C supplements, and the Keto diet have been projected as having properties that will prevent Covid-19 infection.
While some of these are definitely good for general health, none of these; or any other foods can protect us against infection. Many organizations including the WHO and the British Dietecians Association have officially debunked these myths. Taking appropriate precautions and sanitization processes are the only known ways to decrease risk of infections.
With a disease as new as this one, it is difficult to predict if this pandemic will abruptly end or become a global phenomenon with seasonal waves of cases. The contagious nature of the disease, apparent lack of development of herd immunity, and the long wait for a possible vaccine make it appear that coronavirus will be a part of the ‘new normal’ for a long time to come.
This won’t be totally surprising as out of the thousands of infectious diseases, vaccines are available for very few. Historically, in spite of sustained developments and efforts, very few diseases have been eradicated, especially at a global level.
Is that a reason to despair?
Over years many diseases have been added to the health database; and patients, doctors as well as society have adapted to living with these. Many diseases have become part of our life, while some old diseases like malaria and tuberculosis have returned, sometimes in different forms. AIDS is an example of how a previously unknown disease is now a part of our social and medical landscape.
Similarly, until, we find cure or prevention for coronavirus, we will need to find ways to live with it. As of now, our lives will have to be based on the premise that the virus is in our midst. Being responsible citizens, following social distancing in each activity, and making hand and respiratory hygiene a norm to minimize risk of infection, will remain the way forward.
Image source: YouTube
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Shalini grows through her roles as mother and a doctor. She believes that both the
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