After holding our collective breaths for two years as COVID-19 ravaged the globe, in some countries we can pause and quickly inhale as vaccination drives chug along.
Although the coronavirus has far from finished with Europe, weekly COVID deaths have fallen 4% worldwide and vaccination rates are high enough to slow down its spread. Scientists have had a chance to leave vaccine labs and focus more on cures and improved treatments in the light of newly emerging information. So now, U.S. borders have opened for international travellers after two years, we have an oral antiviral pill for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases that reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by up to 50%, and we have not much to worry about the new version of the coronavirus, AY.4.2.
Unfortunately for South Asians and those of South Asian descent, recent news appears discouraging: 60% of us possess a gene that doubles our risk for lung failure and death from COVID-19.
Using artificial intelligence, scientists leading a study at University of Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine stated “…the data showed that a relatively unstudied gene called LZTFL1 causes the effect of… [preventing] the cells lining airways and the lungs from responding to the virus properly.” This gene is also more common among black and ethnic minority communities who remain at a socioeconomic disadvantage.
There is good news, though. According to study co-lead Professor James Davies, “Although we cannot change our genetics, our results show that the people with the higher risk gene are likely to particularly benefit from vaccination. Since the genetic signal affects the lung rather than the immune system it means that the increased risk should be cancelled out by the vaccine.”
As Europe, home to millions of South Asians, experiences its fifth wave, and booster shots are not available till the end of the year, it is now more urgent than ever to step up vaccinations and improve access to preventive healthcare among South Asian communities across the West and of course, in South Asia itself.
Hang in there until you get your booster shots! And of course, mask up.