History teaches us everything about pandemics

We are living through a major pandemic.

Yesterday the UK ‘reflected’ on its 1 year anniversary of lockdown. This is fact, it’s not fiction. Wishing that it weren’t so changes nothing.

I was thinking back to last spring when I would stare at people wearing masks on public transport, thinking “Oh that’s a bit much!”. On reading news articles that were raising the alarm I brushed it off as media hype, because some information suggested that it was not going to be a global threat.

Similarly governments were too slow to react to the emerging threat, perhaps also unable to comprehend or unwilling to act on the information. Lockdowns came too late, even as countries like Italy were seeing serious levels of infections.

This pattern has more or less continued for a year. The advice and instruction from our government here in the UK was consistently confusing, naive and ill-informed. If we look back to the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, or other pandemics, we can understand how highly transmissible and dangerous diseases can spread around global populations.

You just need the disease vectors (us) to be close together in crowded (indoor) areas, breathing and touching virus particles. If people continue to travel and stay in close contact between large numbers of people, then the infection rates keep climbing exponentially. Pandemics don’t die out in a matter of months unless they are immediately contained until vaccines can be made. You resume normal life, then within a month you’ll see spikes in hospital admissions.

The mechanism of spreading is not rocket science, but this virus has been tricky to acknowledge because so many people will be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. It becomes less real. People need to work, and they can only stay locked up for so long without social contact. We have to balance the need to contain against social, societal and welfare needs.

But we do know how these things play out. They peak for a year or two, then will remain in the background and hidden pockets where they can re-emerge. It took years for us to eradicate smallpox, and this was only possible due to massive coordinated vaccination efforts. The more people that refuse to get vaccines, the less protected populations will be.

The first smallpox immunization was created by Edward Jenner in 1796. But it took more than 200 years and a worldwide vaccination program to eradicate the disease. The last known naturally occurring case of smallpox was diagnosed on Oct. 26, 1977, in Merka, Somalia, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated in 1980.

“It was eradicated solely through vaccination. We do not really have any treatments even today for smallpox that are proven, tried and tested,”

So yes, this is the truth, the hard facts of what we face. It’s unfortunate and I wish we hadn’t had to live through something like this, but here we are. Viruses and other pathogens can become threats at anytime, and they have been existing besides us throughout history. The only way to deal with this is to trust the science, for governments to work together to protect and support citizens around the world. And we as individuals can also act responsibly and to realise when we have to do our bit collectively.