Podcast: The Detail

Coronavirus - it’s a misinfodemic

The global health emergency that is the Coronavirus - or Covid-19 - has become a game-changer for scientists around the world in terms of the speed of the response. But at the same time it's been termed a 'misinfodemic'

Covid-19 – or coronavirus – is a game changer for scientists around the world.

For the first time they are sharing their research even before it is peer reviewed, in the rush to find treatment and vaccines.

The response of health experts around the world to the rapidly evolving global health emergency has led to a "knowledge explosion".

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris from the University of Auckland calls it an unprecedented triumph in human research collaboration. Researchers tend to be precious about their life's work, she says; they guard it closely in case someone else beats them to it. But in this case, traditional academic and research practices have "gone out the window".

She also says Covid-19 “is not the apocalypse”, and the speed of the international reaction is incredible. That includes helping countries that have very weak health systems to cope with what’s happening.

The unprecedented collaboration and the hundreds of millions of dollars available through a special fund called the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation [CEPI] could mean that a vaccine starts to roll out at the end of April.

"Some vaccines have taken 20 years, some vaccines still elude us, others have been faster but we're moving into a new paradigm, a new world in this space now, which means if we can do this - what else can you do?" she says.

Too much is still unknown about the coronavirus to predict what will happen next. What is known is that its ancestor has been around since 8000 BC, and today there are more than 80,000 confirmed cases in 35 countries. That compares to a total of just 8000 cases of SARS during its entire life.

The rapid spread of Covid-19 just two months after China told the World Health Organisation it had a problem is baffling experts.

"We still don't know how contagious it is," says Petousis-Harris.

However, dozens of groups and companies are already working on new drugs, trialling existing drugs on patients and developing vaccines after China found the pathogen, sequenced it and made it publicly available.

More than 80 clinical trials are under way, which Petousis-Harris says is mind-blowing.

But she also says the situation is evolving so fast, any information gained is almost outdated by lunch time. That's when you move to another phase - containing a pandemic.

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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