Engage! – Discussions on active involvement in personal health and global wellness.

Global and individual health has been the center of everyone’s mind in 2021. COVID-19 has ruled the way we relax, exercise, shop, work, interact with people, and even breathe. While most of us found ways to cope, several have lost loved ones. We take a moment to think of them. Some of the greatest accomplishments this year in relation to the pandemic were the transparent international data sharing and collaborative efforts that blossomed to fight this virus, and the continuous and expeditious engineering of vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. 

The earliest vaccines appeared in a record time of six months into the pandemic while newer ones are being continuously created at several sites globally, all with different technology.  Moderna (USA), Pfizer/BioNTech (USA/Germany), and Curevac (Germany) vaccines employ mRNA technology; Johnson & Johnson (USA), Covishield (Astra-Zeneca/Oxford, UK), and Sputnik V (Russia) use engineered viral vectors; Covaxin (Bharat Biotech, India), Valneva (France), and Sinovac (China) use inactivated virus; ZyCoV-D (Zydus-Cadilla, India) uses DNA technology; and NVX-CoV2373 (Novovax, USA) uses recombinant nanoparticle technology. India has a pre-eminent position as the world’s largest producer of vaccines and supplies it globally at affordable prices, and the Serum Institute in Pune is currently involved in the manufacture of Covishield. 

Several of these vaccines have been put to use globally under an emergency use provision of the WHO to combat the immediate public health crisis, and they are being continuously studied to streamline longer-term planned clinical usage. Some vaccines seem more efficacious in short-term studies, but practical advantages in terms of global ease of use are also an important consideration, such as stable storage at room temperature and decreased dependence on cold-chain facilities, which is a disadvantage of mRNA vaccines. 

Viruses mutate as a natural course of their life cycle, and we are seeing the continuous emergence of variants, the most recent one of concern being Omicron. Some models suggest that the Omicron variant diverged in early 2020 and evolved into its current form somewhat mysteriously. It did not evolve from any known variant including the commonly occurring delta variant, suggesting that the important complexities of mutation load coupled with an infected population remain to be understood. The best way to prevent mutation and new waves of deadly variants is to curb infection worldwide. A worldwide effort is necessary due to our ready access to global travel and commerce which promotes virus transmission. Thus, global access to vaccines is of paramount importance, along with compliance of the population to take the recommended vaccinations in a timely manner. It is important to note that asymptomatic individuals can be carriers of virus, can be the cause of spread to immuno-compromised household members and the public, and can facilitate the development of new variants.

Article – Zoonotic Infectious Diseases: Local Origins, Global consequences

While the pandemic rages and ebbs, other known health and wellness concerns continue to affect us. In my articles in 2021, I have discussed diabetes and malaria as health conditions that are of vital relevance to the Southeast Asian populations as well as their international expatriate communities. Phenomena that address baseline health at a broader level include awareness of zoonotic transmission (transmission of infectious agents from animals to humans – of particular relevance to COVID-19), and the human microbiome (co-existence of the human body with thousands of good and bad microbes), and I had discussed these with reference to disease and health. My discussions in proactive general wellness articles addressed the importance of diet and water, and also reflected on wellness-promoting practices during times of enjoyment (Navrathri) and stress (unregimented work schedules in these times of COVID and working from home). 

An underlying contributor to changes in the development and transmission of infectious diseases is the warming climate. In addition to the stresses that it brings in terms of fires and floods, climate change causes changes in habitats and the geographical range of vectors, the transmission of pathogens, and the potential susceptibility of the hosts. Over this past year, I have personally encountered losses due to flooding of the Schuylkill River caused by hurricane Ida in September 2021. While this crisis brought the reality of climate change home to me, we are still witnessing the yearly breeding of the Canadian geese as they fly down here to increase their brood. The cyclical appearance of new life provides a semblance of normalcy to a rather disrupted 2021, and gives me hope that opportunities to revert to normalcy as we knew it pre-pandemic may be actualized in 2022. 

Let’s welcome the opportunities and global stability that New Year 2022 might bring!

L. Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures ideas, and writing. Her short story is featured in the anthology of international women writers ‘The Roots that Help Us Grow’ published in 2021 by The Nasiona. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar.