Home   News   Article

NHS HIGHLAND: We can have best chance of keeping Covid under control

By Dr Tim Allison

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
It is the risk of what may happen in the future that drives changes in what we need to do, but we are still unsure, says our columnist.
It is the risk of what may happen in the future that drives changes in what we need to do, but we are still unsure, says our columnist.

During the Covid pandemic we got used to hearing about things that would normally be the preserve of students of biological sciences.

We heard about viral gene mutations, RNA, and coronavirus spike proteins. It is amazing how technology has advanced over the last century, and it has moved these topics from things that were unknown, through areas of academic experiment and partial knowledge down to what gets discussed by everyone.

It was only 70 years ago that the structure of DNA was first identified.

Knowing why and how things happen and what causes the illnesses from which we may suffer is great, but it can still be extremely difficult to forecast how things interact together and what will happen in the future.

Changes to the spike protein of a Covid virus may lead to more infections and more serious illness, or it may mean that that this virus variant is less infective and will die out. The world is a complex place, and many different factors interact with each other to influence events.

The impact of viruses does depend on their genetic mutations, but factors such as vaccination coverage and how closely people are in contact with each other are also important, as well as many other factors. Even the season of the year is important as we see with influenza since people tend to spend more time indoors in winter.

Our knowledge has increased hugely over recent decades, but our ability to apply that knowledge can be more limited.

Human nature is still heavily influenced by development over thousands of years and our behaviour is relatively slow to change compared with our knowledge. So, we are still attracted to fatty, salty and sugary foods because of the energy value that they gave to our ancestors rather than fearing the long-term effects of weight gain and high blood pressure.

The combination of uncertainty about what will happen in the future and the difficulty in applying knowledge to our behaviour makes it hard for us to interpret news about the Covid virus.

We hear about the arrival of new variants with changes in their structure and we also hear about cases of Covid in the community. Yet the cases of disease are being caused predominantly by the same type of the virus that has been circulating for months.

The new variant will only have been found in a relatively small number of cases, but there is a concern that things will change. It is the risk of what may happen in the future that drives changes in what we need to do, but we are still unsure. We need to be appropriately cautious to give us the best chance of keeping Covid under control.

This appreciation of risk has meant that parts of the Covid vaccination programme have been accelerated and some people will be getting invitations to appointments or requests to book an appointment earlier. If we take up these offers, we have the best chance to avoid more infections.

Dr Tim Allison is NHS Highland’s director of public health and policy.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More