Updated: Mar 19, 2021
Covid-19 has been nothing but a curse to humanity. More than 2 million people have died worldwide since the beginning of the pandemic a year ago. Currently, a lot of unanswered questions have arisen. Will we ever recover? It is possible to eradicate covid-19? Should we adapt to a new reality?
While for the majority of the world population the COVID-19 pandemic is a new “experience”, it isn’t for the world of medicine. In the past, mankind has been struck by multiple diseases, one of them was smallpox.
A smallpox pandemic took place around the 1950s and it was later eradicated. But how did we manage to put an end to it? The first step taken was vaccination. The second and most important was global cooperation. This means that the World Health Organization (WHO) functioned collectively and vaccines were distributed worldwide. The next step was to check whether animals could spread the disease and thus make it harder to eliminate. Fortunately, animals had nothing to do with smallpox. Last but not least, doctors used the ring vaccination tactic; they vaccinated the people who had been in contact with the infected. This was easily done since smallpox victims had apparent symptoms. Eventually, the disease was wiped out in the 1980s.
It would be ideal if the Covid-19 pandemic follows the same path as smallpox. However, even though vaccines are not the problem, there is no global cooperation. To be specific, countries have adopted a nationalistic approach to the pandemic. For instance, some countries banned exports of protective gear, others restricted the export of vital drugs and the US pulled funding from the WHO. The UN secretary General, Antonio Guterres said “the pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation - a test we have essentially failed”.
At the same time, as vaccines become available, richer countries are buying up the supply, leaving poorer nations behind, increasing its spread and eventually its mutations. A New York Times headline from April 2020 (the beginning of the pandemic) read: “A new front of nationalism: the global battle against the virus”.
Apart from the lack of collectiveness, animals are vectors of the virus, meaning that even if we remove the virus from the human population, it could easily reappear. Also, the medical world cannot apply the ring vaccination, since covid-19 is invisible; many infected might be asymptomatic. Therefore, they cannot be traced or isolated. Evidently, the corona virus isn’t a good candidate for eradication.
Smallpox was a human disease we eradicated. However, when it comes to Covid-19, we will most probably end up with a virus we can temporarily contain with an annual vaccine, like we do with the flu. As people become immune, there is a strong possibility that Covid will become “endemic” – always around, but not developing to anything rather than a common cold. In January Nature asked around 100 immunologists, infectious-disease researchers and virologists whether covid-19 could ever be eradicated. Almost 90% of respondents replied that the coronavirus would become endemic. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist from Georgetown University said that “The virus becoming endemic is likely, but the pattern that it will take is hard to predict”.
An American epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox said that the COVID-19 pandemic was not "the big one," nor the last one that humanity needed to worry about. “We've gotten [comfortable] in our ability to react to outbreaks, and not prevent them. And I think we've let down our guard" Brilliant said. "We need to be really careful that we devote all the attention we can to stopping this [pandemic] now, worldwide, and then preventing the next one".
We will most likely be able to go back to our life as it used to be, but we shouldn’t. Covid-19 is far from the worst disease nature has to offer and evidently we are not ready for something worse. Maybe we should adapt to a more “careful” way of life. Maybe governments should fund immunology research in order to prepare ourselves for the next outbreak.