Biology, ecology and biomedical science at Brighton

University of Brighton biosciences blog

Dr Sarah Pitt

COVID-19 – a tragedy but there are reasons to be proud

A Brighton virologist has been “heartbroken” by the COVID-19 tragedy but maintains the pandemic has produced moments to be proud of.

Dr Sarah Pitt, virologist and biomedical scientist at the University of Brighton, said: “What has happened is an absolute tragedy and totally heart breaking.

“I’m just as upset as everyone else but it is heartening to see how people have pulled together and how the best minds in the country and the world have pooled their expertise to make a global effort get on top of this disease and to help each other by sharing information. This degree of sharing doesn’t always happen as freely as it is happening now.”

Dr Pitt, a Fellow of the Institute of Biomedical Science, in an interview on BBC Sussex Radio, said there was “still a long way to go” in the search for effective treatment and a vaccine but she listed three milestones that have made her proud.

“The first is how we developed the first test for the virus. It was developed in a phenomenally short amount of time. This is something that has largely been forgotten because events have happened for quickly but, if you remember, Chinese scientists published information about the virus just before Christmas and within a few weeks, in January, we had this lab test. Developing a really reliable lab test for a brand new virus normally takes months if not years but people worked really well together across the whole of Europe to get this test up and running.”

The second was how quickly Oxford University scientists have developed a vaccine: “Again, this is something that normally takes years. They have now conducted the safety testing and have reached the stage where they are looking for volunteers to take part in the clinical trials.

“We must be cautious because we can’t be sure this will definitely work but, according to reports, they have tried animal testing and they have found that while it doesn’t necessarily prevent animals from getting infected it does stop them from getting pneumonia and the disease in any severe form.

“If this does turn out to be a good, workable vaccine, and there are a lot of ifs in that, it would be like the current flu vaccine which doesn’t prevent people from getting it but it stops them from getting the worst consequences. So it might not stop people getting COVID but it would stop them getting severely ill with it which is a great start.”

Finally, Dr Pitt said she was proud that the army of people who have been working flat out conducting tests have finally been recognised: “The pandemic has made people appreciate how important are those who carry out routine blood, urine and other lab tests day in, day out in hospital laboratories up and down the country.

“To be honest, nobody had heard of biomedical scientists before – people have finally noticed that we are here.”

Stephanie Thomson • May 27, 2020

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