One of the presenters asks virologist Marion Koopmans: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how well has the virus been mapped out at present?” Koopmans responds: “Zero point zero, zero. A virus like this – particularly when it keeps circulating – keeps changing.” That means virologists are continuously working to maintain an overview of the virus and its variants, says Koopmans.

For example, Koopmans and her team have already identified a number of variants in the virus’s first appearance. But for the moment, they aren’t sure what this means exactly. Does this mean that these strains have different characteristics? “That would mean we would have to repeat the whole set of initial tests [to characterise the virus, Eds.].”

Prepare for the next wave

“We’re at the start of a very long line of new research,” says Koopmans. The virologists at the Erasmus MC are already working on ‘cutting edge of the available knowledge’ because they have been researching coronaviruses for years. “And basically, we need to be modest about what we can do: we can achieve a lot in terms of research, but we can’t stop the virus.”

When asked whether we can count on a vaccine being developed within the year, Koopmans says: “There are no guarantees. People are working hard to develop one though.” The first wave appears to be under control, but we need to prepare for the next one, according to the virologist. That’s why she wouldn’t stake everything on a vaccine alone.

Blood plasma

So what would help in the short term? “Maybe we can come up with something that yields quicker results among those very vulnerable groups, the elderly. For example, the study recently launched here [the Erasmus MC, Eds.] that focuses on plasma exchange therapy.” That may be suited as a preventative procedure, muses Koopmans.

In plasma exchange therapy, the blood plasma of people who have already been infected and have recovered from the illness is donated to recipients who have not yet fallen ill. Koopmans proposes donating this plasma to individuals who are most at risk – even before they take ill. “The earlier you treat them, the better.” It’s an option that “we shouldn’t be hesitant to explore”.

Friday’s podcast is part of a series presented by the Rotterdam university hospital. In this broadcast, the presenters talk with Marion Koopmans about the virus that has spread across the planet. Listen to the podcast (in Dutch) here:

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