Jay Prakash Yadav*
The COVID-19 pandemic started in December 2020 and continues to disrupt the balance of our ecosystem and our ways of life, resulting in negatively impacting our food supply chains, livelihoods, economies, animal production systems etc. This unprecedented global crisis has provided us with new evidence that a longstanding and sustainable One Health collaboration is needed. The veterinary profession, through effective and efficient Veterinary Services (VS), is crucial to the successful promotion of a One Health approach for the continuity and maintenance of activities that are crucial to public health. Given the animal-origin of COVID-19 and the predominance of zoonoses in emerging infections, the veterinarians’ key role is provided by their important work in animal and public health disease surveillance to prevent disease outbreaks, including zoonoses. They have long years of experience and expertise in dealing on the one hand with the circulation of pathogenic viruses among wild animals (epidemiological surveillance) and on the other hand with epidemics caused by emerging or exotic pathogens introduced into fully sensitive animal populations. Indeed, the contribution of public health veterinarians from a One Health perspective can be envisaged and substantiated through different levels of expertise, such as viral surveillance of wildlife; the diagnosis and molecular characterization of SARS-CoV-2; the veterinary contribution on vaccines; animal import risk assessment knowledge to tackle COVID-19; food security, safety and livelihood; contribution in policy making; awareness about COVID-19 etc.
Viral surveillance of wildlife
It is recognized that about 75% of emerging infectious pathogens in humans are zoonotic in origin. Environmental destruction, caused by intense agriculture, land clearing, deforestation, wildlife trade and climate change, is putting humans into closer contact with animals carrying microbes that can be transferred to people during these encounters. Among the targeted species, bats are expected to play a key role as reservoir and pangolin as intermediate host in COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with human hunting, sale, and consumption of wild animals mostly in China, may creates the conditions for the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from wildlife to human population and further human to human transmission. The role of veterinary virologists, with their study of virus evolution, notably the circulation and pathogenesis of viruses in domestic and wild animals, is essential for coordinating integrated surveillance studies on the emergence of SARS-CoV-2.
The diagnosis and molecular characterization of SARS-CoV-2
In this precarious time of COVID-19, veterinarians have shown their commitment to support the work of human health authorities. Scientists, research associates, research fellows and research scholars of many veterinary universities of country and veterinary laboratories through their experiences and expertise are engaged in testing of human samples for SARS-CoV-2, thereby supporting the diagnostic capacity of human health services. Some veterinary universities and clinics have donated the essential materials such as real-time PCR, personal protective equipment and ventilators to medical colleges/universities. Veterinary professionals are also voluntarily participating in hospitals and laboratories in these COVID-19 crises, when human resources are not sufficiently enough to cope up with the current situation. In some countries, veterinary epidemiologists are actively involved in the public health response to track the disease in humans and to support the development of effective public health interventions.
The veterinary contribution on vaccines
Pfizer has developed mRNA based COVID-19 vaccine under the leadership of CEO Albert Bourla, who is a Greek veterinarian. Strong acceleration in the action against COVID-19 comes from the progress of the genome sequencing technique (Next-generation sequencing) and related global sharing of sequences and bioinformatics analysis. Moreover, in the case of COVID-19 the animal research and the use of animal models, notably the species susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, such as ferrets, non-human primates, rabbits, cats and white tailed deer, along with the availability of artificial intelligence programs and algorithms, clearly support the development of human treatments and vaccines in relation to many different disorders.
Animal import risk assessment knowledge to tackle COVID-19
The veterinary experience in animal import risk assessment can support government in defining a COVID-19 risk strategy for international air travel. Animal import risk methodology can be quickly updated and adapted to COVID-19 prevalence estimate for countries to assess the impact of any further changes to international travel policy or disease occurrence. Such methodology was developed by the UK Public Health England modeling team, composed of veterinary epidemiologists, risk assessor and animal infectious disease modellers, and responsible for providing scientific advice to inform Government‘s COVID-19 policy on travel controls.
Food security, safety and livelihood
Veterinarians have played a pivotal role in the food security, safety and livelihood in the current COVID-19 crisis. Food security, safety and livelihoods are intrinsically linked to sound animal production systems. Veterinary Services (VS) have continued to implement their multiple activities, which contribute to ensure a continuum in safe food provision for populations, sustain their subsistence and to upstream the economics of the countries.
Contribution in policy making
The OIE has contributed to develop high level guidance for veterinary laboratories working with public health services to support testing of human samples and is currently developing guidance on the circumstances under which exceptional testing of animals might be justified in COVID-19 pandemic.
Awareness about COVID-19
Veterinarians may play an important role in the prevention of disease in the society by promoting hand hygiene, restrict contacts between COVID-19 patients and healthy animals, hygiene around human and animal dwellings, social distancing, wearing mask etc. In the start of COVID-19 pandemic, people have misconception that eating chicken and eggs may lead to the transmission of disease, which results many people had stop eating poultry products. Later it was confirmed that there is no chance of transmission of COVID-19 by consuming poultry meat and eggs and veterinarians have played a pivotal role to remove this misconception by organizing various chicken and egg awareness melas.
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis: the contribution of the veterinary profession, 2020. World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). https://www.oie.int/en/responding-to-the-covid-19-crisis-the-contribution-of-the-veterinary-profession/
Ferri, M. and Lloyd-Evans, M., 2021. The contribution of veterinary public health to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic from a one health perspective. One Health, p.100230.
* Author is Research Associate, Department of Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology, Lala Lajpat Rai University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Hisar- 125004, India