Professor Peter Doherty (Australia) – immunologist, Nobel laureate

Professor Doherty in this interview to our channel answered the most relevant questions about COVID-19. According to the Australian scientist, the new type of coronavirus, which we learned about in the 21st century, was considered similar to influenza virus. However, doctors and scientists are now sure that this virus is more serious than the influenza, considering its possible short- and long-term effects on human’s body. Although, it has been yet little time to study this virus properly, a lot of aspects of this virus remain unknown. COVID-19, as many other infections, causes different symptoms, but firstly those which are typical for the respiratory disease, says Professor. In many cases the contamination can be asymptomatic. Nevertheless, Peter Doherty names the sudden loss of sense of smell and/or taste as one of the surest signs of the COVID-19 contamination. To the basic hygiene measures like hand washing, using the sanitiser in situations when washing is impossible, and reasonable social distance, Professor adds avoiding touching your face with your hand to decrease the possibility of getting the virus. Despite the virus is transmitted mainly through airborne droplets, it can also get inside the body through the mucosal membranes. The responsible and conscious human’s behaviour is crucial in this situation. If a person acts as if he already was infected and take actions not to transmit the infection to others, it will really help to slow down the virus’s spread. The same opinion Peter Doherty has on the self-isolation. This measure is quite effective for those, who are already infected or feel respiratory diseases’ symptoms, and allows to reduce social and physical contacts with others. After two weeks of minimizing contact, it is believed that the person cannot transmit the virus if he feels well, despite the tests can still show positive results. The two most common types of COVID-19 tests are reliable ana informative, if they are done in a certified laboratory, assures Australian Professor. The PCR test is very sensitive and allows in 99% detect the virus genetic material. Currently, this type of tests is relevant for finding out these patients who are contagious. The falsely positive test results are explained by the high test’s sensitivity, says the Australian scientist. The antibodies blood test, in turn, is more used nowadays for scientific purposes as the examination of a bunch of results, especially from a group of people, which allows to determine the common immunity. However, due to the limited data we still have, the results of this research cannot be considered as fundamental, explains Peter Doherty. Regarding the possibility of COVID-19 reinfection, the Nobel laureate believes that due the high sensibility of PCR tests there might be positive results among those who were already infected. For more precise explanation, it is needed to conduct an incredibly detailed research on the genetic material of the virus in each specific case of “re-infection”. There has not been yet a research like that on a big scale, states the Australian scientists. Although Peter Doherty personally believes that even if the re-infection is possible, the second time infection should be either with noticeably light symptoms or even asymptomatic. He explained that re-infection usually happens with virus’ modification or mutation and this is not very typical for COVID-19. This virus mutates but slower and not significantly so far than, for example the influenza virus. The same reason allows scientists to believe that the vaccine will be effective by the time it is going to be created as the virus should not mutate significantly by that time. Based on public announcements from various institutions working on the COVID-19 vaccine in different countries Peter Doherty hopes that the vaccine will become available for the population at the end of 2020 – beginning 2021. It is also vital to consider two facts; will the vaccine be effective and affordable for the vast majority of countries. It needs time to conduct and complete the research on the vaccine to be sure that it is effective (minimum 50% as was stated by American Regulatory Agency) and safe for use, does not cause any serious and dangerous side effects. Regarding the vaccine’s affordability Peter Doherty relies on major pharmaceutical corporations’ understanding that it is necessary to vaccinate the whole world’s population to bring back and stabilize the global economy. At the end of our interview, we asked Peter Doherty about the COVID-19 treatment. Undoubtedly, such a treatment would allow to ease all the restrictions immediately including the travelling abroad restrictions, states Professor. However, we are not yet aware of any significant research on this matter, which are usually undertaken in parallel with the vaccine’s one. Professor Doherty admits that when or if such a treatment will be created, it will be extremely an expensive therapy as we can see on examples of other viral therapies. Thus, on professor’s at Melbourne University opinion, the mass vaccination should be quicker, effective and a cheap tool for the COVID-19 dissemination’s fight.