Science

Fearless & Free

This week I received my second COVID-19 vaccination. Which is amazing!

I wanted to mention it especially today, because April 24th is the start of the World Health Organisation's World Immunization Week. In the next week we're being reminded of the need to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. And at this time of a global pandemic it may have a more powerful message than ever before.

Covid thanks 2Here in Jersey the Government is cracking on wonderfully with getting everyone vaccinated against the dreadful virus and as a result, our coronavirus positive figures have plummeted.

We're still not out of the woods because as we relax some restrictions, and open our  borders to holidaymakers, other visitors and residents who want to leave the island, those numbers may go up again. However, with the protection of the vaccination I'm hopeful it will mean fewer losses.

There's no doubt that the past year has been awful. Not just for the lack of opportunities, loss of employment and 'freedoms' but also the loss of lives, among them some of my friends.

I'm also aware that Jersey and other countries like ours - relatively rich - are among the privileged in the world. SO many places on our planet are struggling to roll out vaccination programmes and to control the rise of COVID-19, especially with the different variants which are emerging. Which means that millions and millions of people are still unprotected, and still in danger.

So today, this week, I just want to thank everyone who has made vaccination possible, the scientists and visionaries who have fast tracked the creation of vaccines when usually all this takes many years.

SkyI want to say thank you to the Government of Jersey and all those who work and volunteer at our amazingly efficient Vaccination Centre at Fort Regent, the complex which sits above our harbour in our capital town of St Helier. From atop the hill you can see for miles across the town and the ocean - it's a sign of the wonderful life that's in store for us all.

And I pray that soon there will be equal distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines across the world, so that not just the privileged and rich nations will benefit, but everyone. The whole world deserves the privilege of the vaccine, the protection which comes with it, and the ability to move into the future fearless and free.

During World Immunization Week, especially, that message is so important! 

After having our vaccinations we are advised to sit quietly for 15 minutes, just to check we don't have any adverse reactions to the 'jab' and as I sat there this week, these words came to my mind ...

I am among the Privileged

On so many levels

But especially today

 

There are so many not so Honoured

On so many levels

Including today

 

So on this day 

I take nothing for granted

And trust that MY good fortune will  extend to others

TODAY

 

 


Laughing Out Loud

Have you ever had one of those moments when life feels so great that you just want to smile, and laugh out loud?

I had one of those moments last week when walking on St Catherine's Breakwater in Jersey. After a stressful few weeks it felt great to just be in the fresh air and walking. I could see the French coastline in the distance ... it was Glorious! 

I've always loved St Catherine's, not just because it's also my name, but because when you walk the breakwater, it feels like you're stepping into the ocean. The breakwater is about half a mile (700metres) long so a stroll to the end and back is about a mile and it's an easy walk. Even if it's busy you feel like you're getting away from it all and it always fills me with joy, whatever the weather.

The other day spring was in the air, the sea was calm in the bay, the sun was shining and there was a bit of of breeze on the coast. As I walked to the end of the breakwater, it felt a little more windy, but I was bundled up against the chill and it was exhilarating. When I reached the end of the breakwater, looking out to sea across to the French coast, I breathed in the clean air and my heart began to soar. I found myself laughing out loud.

Now, I don't often film myself, let alone when I doing something like smiling and laughing, but I did switch on the phone-camera the other day. It's nearly a month ago that I finished work with the BBC and started a New Adventure as a freelance writer/broadcaster/PR and communications expert, and lots of my friends and family members have been so kind to check on me from time to time, to see how I'm doing. So I sort of wanted to show them not just the beauty of St Catherine's, share some sounds of the ocean, which I find so relaxing, but also that I'm doing ok in my New Adventure!

There's a quote which sums up the benefits of laughter for me and which is attributed to the English poet, satirist and politician Lord Byron, who died on this day in 1824. I'm not going to talk much about him today ... I may do that another time ... just to say he was a bit of a character, to say the least. I remember studying his poetry at school as part of our exploration of the Romantic poets of the late 18th/early 19th century, and learning about some of his physical and romantic antics! 

And from what I discovered he was a bit of a 'lad' and certainly enjoyed life.

So I can imagine him saying something like this ...

Byron laughter
There's loads of science which indicates that smiling and laughing is good not just for our physical but also our mental health. So today I hope YOU find something which makes you Laugh Out Loud!

And if you want to smile with me ... here's my moment at St Catherine's ...

Have a great day everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Pandemic - a year on

It's March 11th ... and it's EXACTLY a year since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Not just an epidemic but a pandemic! 

Not just a rapid spreading of a disease within a population, but an epidemic which is spreading across many countries, across the world. And quickly!

We'd been hearing about coronavirus since the end 0f 2019. Cases in China, cases emerging in other locations and countries. Mid-February, cases and deaths growing in numbers in Northern Italy.

On March 11th 2020 the WHO cited over 118,000 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus  in over 110 countries and territories around the world. They predicted ongoing and sustained risk of global spread.

At the time, the World Health Organisation's Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this:

“This is not just a public health crisis, it is a crisis that will touch every sector. So every sector and every individual must be involved in the fights.”

It was official. The world was in a pandemic. We are still in that pandemic.

I'm not going to go over everything that's happened since. I just feel I need to mark the spot really. 

Millions of people have died across the world .. as I'm writing this those numbers are over two and a half million. Globally, over 116 million have contracted the virus. And the numbers still rise - you can follow the daily global figures via the WHO numbers dashboard.

And these are not just faceless 'numbers'. Some of us have lost dear family and friends.

To contain the spread of the virus, most of us have adhered to strict living restrictions and 'lockdown' ... a word we hardly knew this time last year.  We've worn masks, sanitised, kept our distance, not gathered in groups, missed out on meeting even our close family members. Members of our medical professions and those who are responsible for keeping our community going day-to-day have done so sometimes to the detriment of their own health. 

Manufacturing , hospitality, service industries, shops, offices, transport systems, travel - just some of the sectors badly affected. Some will never recover.  Many have lost their jobs, many of us have worked from home for nigh on a year now. Life has changed out of all proportion.

Covid signsBut now, thanks to the brilliant efforts of the world's scientists, we have vaccines. And although, unfortunately they are not being rolled out equally across the world, distribution has begun. 

We know that vaccines won't 'eradicate' the coronavirus - experts say it is here to stay. The jabs don't 'cure' people from COVID-19 but the vaccine does, it appears, limit the effects. We are already beginning to see a slow down of deaths from the disease, although it is very very slow.

And being vaccinated doesn't mean we will be completely free to do whatever we want, go wherever we want.  In fact some say the 'new normal' will require ongoing restrictions to our behaviour, especially as the virus mutates and takes different forms.

Here in Jersey in the Channel Islands we are coming up to the anniversary of the first COVID-19 positive test. We've lost nearly 70 dear people. And our community and commerce has been badly affected.

But there is optimism in the air.

Covid vax cathyThe Government of Jersey is rolling out an excellent vaccination programme and I am privileged to have already received my first dose. Not because I'm 'vulnerable' but because I really am that old!

So today ... I remember those who are lost and those who are grieving. I remember those who are affected in so many ways, including physically, emotionally and financially. I thank those who have kept us safe, those who have nursed us, served us throughout this past year, distributed food parcels, ensured our island has kept it's head above water.

And today, I give thanks for the vaccine, and hope and trust that everyone across the world will soon have access to it, regardless of their economic or social status and the country in which they happen to reside. Only when the whole world is able to be vaccinated will the world begin to be a safer place.

 

 


Don't waste Time

I don't know how you're reading this.

Maybe you've logged on to your desktop computer, or perhaps you're reading this daily blog on your handheld technical device, or even your phone.

If you're as old as me - which is not ancient, but old enough - you might remember a time when we had no computers, and phones were plugged into the wall in your house, office or a 'phone box' on the side of the road.

I think I first saw and used a computer, a very basic one, at work in the 1980s. It was stand alone, and not connected to any other computers. To share information I had to load the data onto a 'floppy disc' which could be inserted into another machine. There was no 'internet' and no fancy graphics. Just black and white, or green on the screen.  

It wasn't long though, just a few years, when we had greater 'connectivity'.  The World Wide Web was 'invented' in 1989 and by about 1993 it was something we used every day. Initially I could connect (rather slowly and with that distinctive 'dial in' sound) via my telephone line but eventually came what we now know as 'wifi'. What freedom! When it works.

As for a 'mobile' phone, my first was a rather large analogue device which had a cover I flipped open to get to the dialling numbers. It had an aerial I had to extend to get a connection.  I think I could text on it and make calls, but nothing else. I'm talking about the early 1990s, so not that long ago in the greater scheme of things.

We've come a long way very quickly. No longer do we need to be 'plugged in' to connect to the world. Today I have a laptop and an I-pad, and an I-phone and I can do pretty much anything I want to on it, on the go, through wifi. 

The idea of mobile phones goes right back to the early 20th century and many many people have been involved in the development of the technology down the years. 

But I'm going to mention one man today who is synonymous with the development of the personal computer era.

His name was Steve Jobs, and he was born on this day - February 24th - in 1955.

Business magnate and guru, industrial designer, pioneer and innovator.  He and Steve Wozniak, a former high school friend, set up Apple Inc in 1976. Under Jobs' leadership as chairman and chief executive, the company has become one of the leading firms, if not THE leading technology company in the world.  Think that I-phone and the other tech I mentioned just a few moments ago.

I could say so much about Steve Jobs, but I won't. You can look him up on your I-phone or similar tech device to find out more.

There's no doubt that Steve Jobs inspired not just computer geeks and tech people during his time, but also those who wished to emulate his business acumen and determination to get things done. He was an unconventional character but he created an astonishing legacy which continues to inspire, even though the man himself is no longer with us.

And there's one quote which I found from Steve Jobs, which inspires me. It's part of a longer thought which I offer below, but it starts with this...

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” 

This is so profound. 

Many of us spend our lives trying to please others, and trying to be what others want us to be.

We do jobs that we have no passion for, because our family or our teachers, or our community want us to follow those paths. We believe things because we think if we stop believing we will upset the people around us, or those who taught us, or raised us. Even when it comes to relationships we maybe settle for less than we might, because the world tells us we need to be married, paired up, have children before we're a certain age. Even if we're with the wrong person. We tie ourselves into careers because they bring us money to buy the house, buy the clothes, have the holidays, live the life that 'everyone' lives. 

And think about the celebrity culture.

So many people think if they look like, sound like, wear the same things as those they perceive to be 'successful' then they will successful too. But one of the reasons that the celebrity who we might try to emulate were successful in the first place is because they WERE at the start, different and distinct. Original.  By copying them you are a poor facsimile, just a copy. Not original at all.

Take the example of music ... today's popular music. Listen to the charts and many of the successful downloads of tracks, and you may notice that many of them sound the same.  That 'breathy' rather 'whiney' sound where the singers slur their words. Many of them, when they occasionally sing 'properly' without that affectation, have great voices. But they adopt this sound because others have made a success with it. But what the copycat musicians forget is that the original artist made it BECAUSE they sounded 'different. They were original. 

Maybe if people had the courage to follow their OWN style, rather than just copying what they think will make them successful, they might actually get what they so long for. And if not, well at least they've been true to themselves.

I know I've been part of the system. I've been guilty of doing things, and making even important decisions in my life,  because I thought it was 'expected of me'.  I've stayed in jobs I dislike or am bored with because I don't want to let people down and to be seen to be walking away from 'a good situation'.  I've missed opportunities because I haven't been brave enough to step outside the expectations I think others have of me. It's so complicated.

But the older I get, and the shorter the amount of time I know is left to me, the braver I become. 

I'm not sure yet where this might lead me... but today, on this anniversary of Steve Jobs' birth, I take his thoughts on board and determine not to waste any more time living a life that is not mine.

Steve jobs feb 24

 

 


Symbols of Hope

Have you had your vaccination yet?

If you're a person of my age, that's a question you might be hearing or reading quite a lot recently.

And right now, in my case, the answer is - NO!

My age group hasn't yet been invited to have the Covid19 jab and I'm not vulnerable and I don't have underlying health conditions, so I've not been called early to our local vaccination centre at Fort Regent overlooking St Helier in Jersey.

Here we're getting on famously with the rollout of the vaccination against this awful virus, and I expect to have my jab probably sometime in the next six weeks. Although we all know that it won't cure COVID, it will protect us against becoming ill and hopefully, prevent more deaths.

The world is pinning its hopes on the various forms of the coronavirus vaccines which have been developed over the past year, to ensure we can go back to a sense of 'normal' sometime in the future. It won't kill off the virus because most experts predict it is here to stay, and it won't mean those of us who are vaccinated can just pick up our old lives without thought of risk in the future.

We will still need to wear masks, sanitise our hands, and I reckon social distancing is probably here to stay for a long time. And it's not just about us, it's about the rest of the world. Until the vaccine is shared with poorer nations and we all have an equal chance to benefit from it, the world will still be constantly on the brink of outbreaks, lockdown, restrictions.

These are extraordinary times but are they 'unprecedented'? I haven't the time to go into it in detail here, but in the course of human history there have been many 'unprecedented' times. Many epidemics and pandemics, many diseases which were the scourge of humanity not just for one year, or even decades, but for centuries.

On February 23rd 1954 a group of schoolchildren in Pennsylvania, USA, were the first group of people to receive injections of a new vaccine against a disease which has been around since pre-history.  However, it was in the 20th century that major outbreaks and epidemics began to emerge.

That disease is poliomyelitis - polio. Click on the word if you want to find out more about what it is ... but in short, it's an infectious disease which can in very rare situations cause death, in many has no effect and in others results in long term ill-health, paralysis and disability. It spreads from person to person through infected human faeces or saliva and it's been around for thousands of years. We know this because there are historic depictions of the disease and it's debilitating effects in ancient art.

However, it wasn't until the late 18th century that polio was recognised as a distinct condition. And the virus that causes it ...  the poliovirus ... wasn't identified until 1900.  Since the late 19th century there had been major outbreaks in Europe and the United States  and the race was on to try to identify this disease which in the 20th century became of the most worrying childhood diseases. You only have to look at old films and read history to see the way polio devastated lives. One of the images ingrained in my mind is that of the 'iron lung' - one of the symptoms and effects of polio is paralysis of the lungs, so these massive contraptions helped people to breathe.

Polio outbreaks blighted the first part of the 20th century. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) who at the time was a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed.

The rapidity with which the coronavirus vaccines have been developed has been astonishing. In the past, this took many years of research and tests and trials and in the case of polio it wasn't until the 1950s that the first vaccines were developed by various virologists and medical researchers.

In the late 1940s, President Roosevelt helped to create an organisation by the name of the March of Dimes, to find a way to defend against polio. They enlisted Dr. Jonas Salk, head of the Virus Research Lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Salk's research resulted in the discovery that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types, and that any effective vaccine needed to combat all three. Little by little, by growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating  or “killing” them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk gradually developed a vaccine which was able to immunize patients against polio without danger of infecting them.

And it was that vaccine developed by Jonas Salk that was used during that first mass anti-polio vaccination of the children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on this day back in 1954.

As with the current situation, there wasn't just one vaccine being developed. Soon after that first trial, another medical researcher, Albert Sabin developed an oral vaccine against polio ... and this is the treatment which is credited with having made the difference to the spread of polio in the second half of the 21st century.

This vaccine, which is a drop on a tongue, is the one most commonly used. I remember as a little girl queuing up in front of a school nurse and having a little drop of something bitter on my tongue. I didn't know then that this was protecting me from paralysis and disability. 

Not everyone was so fortunate. I have a couple of friends who were infected as children and have ended up with physical disability - it usually affects the legs. I feel fortunate that I was born post 1954 when vaccines were available.

Yet the availability of a polio vaccine did not eradicate the disease immediately, or even within a half a century. Polio is still around today and it's mostly in parts of the world that are poor and disadvantaged, and where there is still conflict.

In recent decades there's been a real effort to try to eradicate the disease, led by the World Health Organisation. If polio is completely eliminated, it would be the second disease after smallpox to disappear from the face of the earth.

In 1988 when the WHO initiated the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, around 350,000 children a year across the world were being paralyzed by the polio virus. Back at the beginning of the 21st century the WHO was reporting that the number of cases diagnosed each year had been reduced by 99.9%.  In 2016 polio numbers had been driven down to 42 cases across the globe.  

The multi-billion dollar global effort to eradicate polio is concentrated on children and among those who embraced this campaign more than 35 years ago are the members of Rotary International. 

Their 'Purple for Polio' campaign involves giving the polio vaccine to children across the world.

Why 'purple'? It's because every time a child receives their life-saving polio drops on mass polio immunisation days, their little finger is painted with a purple dye ... this shows they've received their polio vaccine.

Crocus polio 1I've sort of got involved in the campaign over the past years. I've interviewed local Jersey Rotary members about it on the radio and I've been to celebrations, and I've bought and planted purple crocus corms which about this time of year are beginning to pop up across the island, and in my garden!

As the campaign has developed, it has come down to just a few countries where polio is still 'wild' ... including Pakistan and Afghanistan. There, poverty and conflict mean that clinicians often can't get into isolated rural communities, and sometimes prevailing cultural and even religious beliefs prevent the population embracing the treatments or even allowing the medical professions in to host those mass immunization days. It's slow progress in places like this.

Unfortunately during the coronavirus pandemic, where travel has been so restricted, cases of polio have started to rise again. Last year more than 200 cases of wild polio and around 600 cases of the vaccine-derived form of the disease were registered. According to news reports, most of the vaccine-derived strains of polio are in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but rogue strains of polio also emerged across sub-Saharan Africa, Yemen, Malaysia and the Philippines.

So there is still much to do! It might still take a while, but across the world there are those absolutely committed to seeing an end to this terrible disease which affects not just individuals and their futures, but families and whole communities.

We're not quite there yet, but the signs of the purple crocuses springing up in my garden, and across Jersey, are symbols of hope.