More than six months into the coronavirus crisis, data show that not just age, but also biological sex plays a pivotal role in the manifestation and response to Covid-19, with more men dying from acute infections versus women in the short term. This discrepancy has shined a spotlight on a key theme that has gained traction in recent years: is enough being done to account for sex and gender in disease and medicine? Not enough, says Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, the chair of sex and gender-sensitive medicine at Radboud University in the Netherlands and a member of the European Commission’s expert group on gendered innovations.
We’re only at the start of the coronavirus pandemic although the second wave may take a different form to the first one, says veteran virologist Professor Peter Piot, who has spent the past 40 years tracking down and fighting viruses.
To begin with, it was just anecdotal reports. Ear, nose and throat specialists from around the world were sharing their experiences on online message boards – they were all seeing a spike in patients experiencing anosmia, a loss of smell.
Some people’s immune systems contain pre-existing protection against coronavirus, indicating that they have encountered a similar infection to Covid-19 before, according to Dr Aleksandra Walczak, a physicist at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, France.
We are seeing a failure of global health governance in response to Covid-19 because there are too many agencies with different interests, according Professor Colin McInnes, pro-vice chancellor at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK, who says global institutions such as the World Health Organization and World Bank should stand together in crises.
The world’s poorest – who have lost their incomes from illness or because of lockdowns – are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and, unless they receive enough support, hunger levels will soar and some countries may see rising violence, experts say.
Efforts to design a safe vaccine for Covid-19 are moving forward at full throttle, yet experts agree that it’s likely to be a year, at least, before an immunisation is ready. Meanwhile, scientists around Europe are exploring ingenious ways – including with the help of alpacas – to use the latest techniques in molecular manipulation to repair coronavirus-induced lung damage or to block the virus before it wreaks havoc.
Transfusing antibodies from Covid-19 survivors into seriously ill patients could provide a quick treatment win, but a more selective approach may both treat and prevent the disease. A single, highly-effective antibody that is mass-produced like a drug could combine the benefits of antivirals and a vaccine for at-risk individuals such as health workers.
Europe urgently needs to make its food system more sustainable – or else face growing food insecurity and health impacts – and the coronavirus pandemic offers us an opportunity to push for change, according to Professor Peter Jackson.
Pragmatic or dangerous – what do the experts say?
Better predictions of volcano behaviour could protect people and infrastructure.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.