Studying Communicable Diseases in the Midst of a Pandemic
This term a number of year groups are studying communicable diseases as part of their biology lessons. One day in the future, they may look back at the unique position they found themselves in: studying this topic in the midst of a global pandemic.
Here are some of their thoughts:
Daneel L (Upper Sixth)
It’s hard to believe how quickly time has gone by. Just under a year ago we went into our first lockdown. I would be lying if I said I was expecting it, although I'm sure most of you were as surprised as I was. During the time of the lockdown, I was half-way through the chapter on communicable diseases for the A level course. Learning online was definitely a new experience, which took a lot of getting used to, especially at the beginning where we just needed to get used to the whole process.
It felt very fitting that we were learning about communicable diseases during a time where a pandemic is continuously changing the way that we live. The topic is definitely one of the more interesting ones and I definitely became more aware of the current virus as well as learning about other diseases which work in similar ways.
Overtime, what was originally a strange way of learning, became more natural as we got used to it. The highlight of the week came when we were able to participate in the ‘Howard Society’ meetings which were held online. There we discussed various ethical issues with privacy, as well as talking a lot about the developments with the corona virus.
Although the current lockdown was at first slightly disappointing, it has been much easier to settle down and get used to online lessons again after having done it already.
Emily O (Fourth Form)
This virtual term, Fourth Form have been learning about communicable diseases; a very relevant topic to study whilst the world is coping with the unprecedented challenge of Covid. I have found that being able to experience the destruction that a virus can have (rather than just read it from a textbook) has really brought the biology behind it to life, and it certainly emphasizes the importance of learning about transmissible diseases and the way in which they work.
In our biology lessons, we have learnt about how different viruses affect both animals and plants, and the drugs used to treat these. Most recently, we did a small project on the testing and trailing of vaccines. For this project, we worked in small groups to find a suitable quote for the expenses and long processes involved in making a vaccine. Whilst working on this, the sheer amount of work, time and effort that has been put in by scientists and doctors alike to make the vaccine in such little time really struck me. It has helped me realise how grateful I am to the key workers for all they are doing to help us in this pandemic.
George G (Fourth Form)
The teaching on communicable diseases has helped me understand how people are being affected by viruses. This has been very relevant to understanding the effect of Covid 19 during the pandemic. I now understand that viruses can be passed from person to person by inhalation, and also by people contracting the virus by putting their contaminated hands into their mouths. To reduce the risk of transmission it is important for people to be further apart so if for example they cough, then there is less risk of the virus particles being passed in droplet form. Also, by wearing a mask and by washing hands frequently the risk of contracting the virus is lessened. Hand washing and keeping surfaces clean are critical hygiene factors.
I am also aware that once an individual is affected then they need to isolate to reduce the risk of transmission to others. For Covid 19 affected people need to isolate for 7 days or until their symptoms resolve. I have also been taught the importance of vaccination and how an altered virus or the mRNA in the vaccine can trick the immune system to offer protection. The altered mRNA is the mechanism used in the widely distributed Pfizer vaccine and the altered virus in the Oxford vaccine. I am also aware that the virus can mutate and therefore the vaccine may become less effective.
Overall studying communicable diseases during the pandemic has made the topic more interesting and relevant and sparked further interest in disease. It has also allowed me to understand why the government have implemented the policies that they have.
Will H (Upper Sixth)
Covid: Best Textbook Example?
When one talks about the past year it doesn’t tend to have many positives. However, when we started learning about communicable diseases as part of A level biology, it was an immediately clear we could see the real-world application straight away. This made a real difference in the understanding of it. This better insight from both the current affairs and the course allowed for further exploration into this world of epidemiology. As a homework we were asked to watch Contagion: and the subsequent lesson then explored some of the science behind a pandemic (such as vaccination programmes) along with the spreading of fear associated, which have also been the side-effects of Covid-19. I discovered a podcast on the ‘Virus Hunters’ which we listened to in the Howard Society, and we discussed the people trying to find new viruses – I found the research into bats particularly interesting as they often have some of the most recent viruses among their population.
Nell W-J (Fourth Form)
Studying communicable diseases in the middle of a pandemic has been extremely relevant. The topic is now something more relatable and interesting as we are currently living through it. Although I had heard of some of the diseases we are studying, I think for all of the class coronavirus is a current example, so it is more applicable to study communicable diseases now. During the lessons we discussed vaccinations. This particularly highlighted how quickly the current vaccinations have been produced. Usually, it should take around 13 years, so the fact that we already have two vaccinations currently being circulated is an amazing scientific achievement.
Lottie K (Upper Sixth)
There was something almost poetic to be found as, when in the midst of being taught about the dangers of droplet infection and the might of the pathogen, we were plunged into a modern-day textbook example and sent home to stop the spread. Thankfully we were also being taught about the intricacies of the immune system. Learning about phagocytes and cytotoxic cells, and the ability of the human body to protect itself was a small comfort, at least, when listening to lessons from the comfort of our homes.
Before the lockdown, predictions (of varying accuracies and decreasing optimism) were made in lessons as to the extent of the virus: The coronavirus won’t make it to the UK. The media is blowing it out of proportion. COVID will barely affect us. We’ll probably just need some precautions. School will be closed by next week. Some came to pass, some didn’t, but something we all gained from our pretty specific circumstance was the incentive to analyse what more we heard in the news. With what we’d learnt about previous outbreaks, it made us keen to know every angle. Full submersion in the most unlikely of topics, however, seemed in fact to be the most effective of teaching methods, and that little help in our A levels was the most beneficial part, I’m sure.
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