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When will the pandemic end ?

This is a million dollar question on most minds in the world. We are into the third year and are still seeing variants emerge and new cases and hospitalizations. With increased vaccinations, we see fewer hospitalizations and deaths on a comparative basis. But nevertheless the discomfort with the pandemic is all around us. Restrictions on mobility being a major one. 

I am not an astrologer, nor a scientist or a doctor. Just a common man on the street.  But I can make educated guesses, not wild ones, based on what I read and learn. I will base my assessment on the history of a similar pandemic about a hundred years back and also on the current situation and how countries are coping with it and what they should do to quickly end this most terrifying event of this century.  

Firstly, the history of Spanish flu from 1918-20. An excellent history of this pandemic can be found in the book “The Great Influenza” by John Barry. The flu is caused by a virus similar to the corona virus. It did not originate or devastate Spain as the name indicates. It was the the first world war. News censorship was prevalent in most countries. Spain was relatively free from any such restrictions. The press reported what they saw all around the world. No good deed goes unpunished. The name stuck. 

President George W. Bush read this book while on vacation around 2005. He got terrified and asked his lieutenants to prepare a plan to cope with any such future pandemic. A report was prepared but gathered dust before the pandemic hit in 2020. Those were the days when no one knew anything about viruses, nor were there any antibiotics or anti-viral drugs or vaccines available. The flu had to take its course infecting most of the population before herd immunity was achieved and the pandemic died down by itself in about three years. From the book ”Influenza killed more people in a year than the black death of the middle ages killed in a century. It killed more people in 24 weeks than AIDS killed in 24 years. It was the first great collision between nature and modern science”. 

What really caused the Spanish flu ? It is reported to have started in a small town in Kansas in the US. It spread widely due to world war 1. The US was not involved in world war 1 in the beginning. But later entered the war on a large scale. The army was ramped up to millions of soldiers within a very short period of time. And tens of thousands of soldiers were cramped together in barracks all over the country. Once the flu started spreading, the usage of masks and distancing was advocated. These measures represent great medical thinking in those times when not much was known about how diseases spread. 

The recommendation was breached on several occasions leading to disasters. President Wilson cared more about war and just brushed aside any concerns of a looming pandemic. He promoted the sale of Liberty bonds to raise funds for the war. A huge rally was organized in Philadelphia despite warnings from all the medical advisors. As expected, it led to widespread infections and deaths. Eventually the disease spread with armies moving across the continents. The pandemic ended only when the virus had no more humans to infect. But humanity paid a hefty price to see the pandemic through. 

Fast forward a hundred years. The book predicted such pandemics in the future. It was not a matter of if, it was only a question of when. Did we do any better with all the scientific knowledge ? Probably not. The most advanced countries in the world were vastly unprepared in terms of masks, antibiotics, hospital capacities etc.  President Trump did not do any better than Wilson. Incidentally, Trump was infected by Covid like Wilson was infected with the flu. 

Europe did not fare any better either, having conquered infectious diseases earlier in the last century, their immunity levels and medical infrastructure was unable to cope. Eastern countries did a lot better. The recommendations are still the usage of masks and social distancing. These steps were questioned and breached on numerous occasions all over the world, thanks to the politicians and the media. To be fair, today’s world is more complex with billions of people, poultry and domesticated animals. Jet travel across the world is pretty common.        

Since the beginning of Covid, the vaccines were created in a record time of about a year, including the large scale trials. Vaccine production has ramped up pretty well. India is doing well, racing along with the vaccine initiative. The US has stagnated due to vaccine resistance, same resistance as to the usage of masks. Newer variants keep coming up and are causing panic. It is in part due to lack of vaccinations in poorer countries like Africa. It is in the interest of rich countries and the whole humanity to donate vaccinations to these countries. That would be a lot better strategy in controlling the variants, rather than booster shots.  

2022 is the year in which vaccines will flow to the poorer countries. Indian vaccine makers will play a major role. Indian vaccines are more suitable for third world countries with scant refrigeration facilities. With major populations of India, China, Europe and US well on path to gaining herd immunity, and poorer countries getting them as well, I would think this year to be the one when it will be curtains down for the virus. 

It does not mean that the viruses will vanish from the face of the Earth. Far from that, they will continue to mutate as nature tinkers with different combinations to come up with the effective ones. Humanity will be tested as never before. While we should not panic with each new variant until scientific facts emerge, the lessons should not be lost and disasters should not be politicized. Else, science does not distinguish between political alignments and identity or border based alienation.

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Prasad Ganti

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Navneet Bakshi
16 days ago

Beautiful article Prasad Ji. Are we better equipped or more prepared than our forefathers were a hundred years ago? The wise advice that was thought of then still is the best protection. It even suits those people who are against taking any allopathic medicine. I never knew they existed in America too until I read the book “Educated”. It is sad to see America suffer because of dual blow from them and those who oppose even to wearing mask. I wonder will it be left to herd immunity to save America in the long run. Pfizer vaccine hasn’t done any better than our desi ones and that I think has been a blessing in disguise for India because India cannot afford the cold chain that it requires. The poor countries can ill afford any form of treatment and as of now I think this pandemic is eating up a great part of budget of every country besides hitting the economy in all other possible ways. Let’s hope the war against it is won in this year, but will we ever learn?

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