Will it take 2,000 years to eradicate COVID-19?

The definition of ‘insanity’ is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Albert Einstein

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A pox on both your houses!

Shakespeare W., Romeo and Juliet, Act 3, Scene1.

There were two types of pox in existence in the time of the Bard; Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, that originally caused pus-filled pustules to cover the body and led to blindness, dementia and death and Smallpox which covered its victims in small pus-filled pustules and caused blindness and death.

Cases of smallpox, an infectious disease which emanated from variants of either the Variola Major virus or the Variola Minor virus, can be evidenced as far back in our history as 300 BCE where it has been identified on the corpses of Egyptian mummies.

Smallpox was responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people per year across Europe in the 18th century and was attributed as being the cause of 1/3 of all cases of blindness at the time.

Smallpox killed 300 million people in the 20th century and 500 million in the last 100 years of its existence.

As recently as 1967, 15 million cases occurred per year.

It was deemed eradicated by the WHO in 1979 with the last known case occurring in 1977. Eradication was possible due to the development of vaccines and of an efficient method to deliver them.

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Despite vaccine hesitancy with the new COVID vaccines, vaccines and suspicion about them, are not new. But like medicine generally, vaccines continue to develop and become more efficient and effective.

The first reference to inoculation for Smallpox was published by Chinese author Wan Quan in 1549.

Inoculations were further developed over a long period of time with the most effective demonstrations of the effectiveness of inoculations attributed to physician Edward Jenner in 1796.

Various Smallpox inoculation programmes were introduced on a voluntary and then mandatory basis across the globe from 1803 to 1812 but despite this, even in the early 1950’s, 50 million cases of smallpox were still occurring each year.

By the time world health authorities agreed a global approach to Smallpox eradication in 1959, 2 million people were still dying every year from Smallpox.

Smallpox was not eradicated until December 1979, which is interesting as by then, inoculations had been around for 430 years. Even more sobering is that Smallpox had been around for over 2,000 years by the time it was eradicated.

The Plague

The first iteration of the bubonic plague, known as the Black Plague of 1346–1353, killed half the population of Eurasia, an estimated 75–200 million people, in four years. Whilst bubonic plague continued to recur for centuries, its effect was less, if still, deadly.

Between 1665 and 1666, a period of 18 months, the bubonic plague killed a quarter of London’s population, hence being described as the Great Plague of London.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

And there have been many, many epidemics and pandemics including the Spanish flu in 1918, an H1N1 influenza, which was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 17–50 million people and possibly up to 100 million people. The influenza pandemic of 1957–1958, an H2N2 influenza, killed 1–4 million people worldwide.

In comparison, COVID-19, a corona virus, has killed approximately 5 million people worldwide but left many with the damaging effects of long-Covid.

And yet, here we are with the same hesitancies and skepticisms relating to inoculation that were prevalent in literature in the 1800s and 1900s.

Hopefully we are smarter now and it won’t take us another 2,000 years to eradicate COVID-19.



Stories of my life.

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