Eerie parallels: COVID-19 & my medical thriller The Neah Virus

When I released my novel The Neah Virus back in 2013, there was little reason to suspect I was writing about issues we’d all be facing in 2020. But here we are, locked down–some of us–and hearing daily of a deadly nemesis that apparently arose among wild animals and made the leap from them to us. With horrendous consequences. And no end in sight (though as a vaccine researcher, I’m optimistic a cure is around the corner).

In my book, a virus emerges from nature at Neah Bay, a small Native American reservation town at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington State. People start dying. Contagion is rampant. The Centers for Disease Control calls for desperate measures, including quarantines that require the National Guard to intervene in the interest of public safety. Does any of this sound familiar?

Want more parallels? The virus in my story is a mutant, an altered form of the already deadly rabies virus, changed into an even more lethal and fast-spreading form. Sound familiar?

This is the sort of thinking that wakes me up at night and gets my fingers flying over the keyboard. Given my history of working on vaccines and immune-system hormones over an entire scientific career, I suppose it’s not too surprising. But with that background, when the imagination gets into overdrive, I come up with some pretty scary stuff. Scary to me, let alone an unsuspecting reader.

Consider this short excerpt:

“Once you’ve read the virus’s code, how many days will it take to make a vaccine?”

“The same rules apply as for other viruses,” McKean said gravely. “It takes months to produce each year’s influenza vaccine, and that’s a virus we have a lot of experience with. Given an unknown virus like this, it might take years to create a new vaccine.”

“Years! Isn’t there a shortcut?”

“We could try producing the virus’s surface protein in a bacterial culture—a subunit vaccine. That might be accomplished in weeks or months.”

“But that might be too late for us, if we’ve been exposed.”

His expression darkened. “Kay Erwin told me this morning the number of people with symptoms like Pete Whitehall’s has grown to eighty. That’s enough to convince me the virus is dangerous, even if the CDC still isn’t sure. How have you been feeling, Fin?”

End quote. Now, that’s what we’ve been hearing about the coronavirus–months to years before we have a vaccine. Yikes.

But here’s a nice thing about fiction: if the writer insists on a happy ending (or at least a non-lethal ending) then that’s what you get.

Here’s a link to more information about The Neah Virus if you’re interested.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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