The Humanitas Professor: at least three good reasons for the booster. The mystery of Covid the reaction of our immune system
In the last year, Alberto Mantovani (by now he needs no introduction: one of the most famous scientists in the world for his research in immunology), while dedicating himself almost full time to scientific literature, analyzing and publishing works, he found the time to reread some of his favorite classics . Thucydides, for example, the Greek historian who, in his Peloponnesian War, tells how those who recover from the plague do not get sick again. Or, again on this disease, the events of the doctor who, in the novel by Albert Camus (in fact The fish), experiment with a serum to combat it, not knowing whether it will work or not. But posing a series of ethical problems on the experimentation of new treatments. Literary references that bring us back to the present day, to the Covid pandemic and to all the questions that this emergency has raised.
But of all his readings, Mantovani, today scientific director of the Humanitas Institute in Milan, mentions, in particular, a Greek philosopher: Socrates. Here’s why. Socrates reminded us of the importance of “knowing not to know”, a condition that constitutes the premise for facing, with humility, the challenge of scientific research, comments the Milanese scientist. Therefore: the importance of scientific research that has never, as in this moment, been called upon to explain an unprecedented situation: the pandemic from a hitherto unknown virus, Sars-Cov 2. And immunology, in all this, has made as a mistress, because this discipline studies, among other things, the interaction between those who attack the human organism (such as viruses) and the defense responses that the latter puts in place, in order not to succumb.
Professor Mantovani, knowing how this virus interacts with the body can help fight it: what have we discovered about this dangerous relationship and what remains to be discovered?
We know its genetic heritage, in particular the spike protein that allows it to enter the cells of the human body and damage them and the one against which we have built the vaccines that now work.
Vaccines, however, seem to lose efficacy in protecting against infection, but still provide shelter from serious illness and hospitalization. useful the third dose?
For the third dose there is the “risk of not doing” which is worse than “doing”. Yes, the third dose should be administered, in the light of what scientific data suggests. And in any case, there are at least three good reasons: to protect myself, my loved ones and the people I come in contact with, especially if I am a healthcare professional.
We discuss the opportunity to search, with a blood test, antibodies against Sars-Cov-2 to understand if a protected person and if he can eventually decide whether or not to take the third dose (the second possibly for those who have done the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which involved a single administration). What do you think of it?
Antibody production is a strategy of the immune system to defend itself against viruses, but not the only one. There are also certain white blood cells (T lymphocytes) that come into play in fighting the virus. a theme to be studied. At the moment there is no correlated, that is a test (for example the dosage of antibodies, ed) to say whether a single individual is protected or not.
How do you explain the side effects from vaccines, including fever and exhaustion, which generate mistrust of these preparations?
Side effects are a “symptom” of the effectiveness of the vaccine. It happens because the vaccine stimulates the first non-specific immunological defense line of the organism, towards the stranger (virus or bacterium that is, ed), which involves the production of pro-inflammatory substances, capable of stemming it (the second line, more specific, involves the production of antibodies and T lymphocytes, targeted against a particular agent, ed). It is these pro-inflammatory substances that cause these ailments.
The immune system, therefore, is the great conductor of the responses that our organism puts in place when it is attacked by enemy agents and not just by viruses. And she just wrote a book about this called The secret orchestra. Tell us about it?
In reality it is a reinterpretation of a book that I wrote about ten years ago and that I found to be completely outdated. In the meantime, immunology has made great strides, also stimulated by the Covid emergency.
In the last chapter, you talk about what remains to be discovered about Covid. For instance?
There is the topic of autoimmunity. It is a question of understanding how, at times, the immune system reacts in an exaggerated way: it attacks the virus, but it also ends up attacking itself, damaging various organs. Understanding how this happens could also help explain post-Covid syndrome, the persistence of symptoms in patients who have had the disease.
Once again: the knowledge of not knowing the stimulus for research.
November 8, 2021 (change November 8, 2021 | 07:12)
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