Lest we forget : a brief history of how pandemics end

This week which includes Remembrance day, preliminary findings show that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19, and results from other advanced trials are expected soon.

However, it is worth remembering that whilst people are pinning their hopes on a vaccine to wipe out the pandemic, the fact is most of the infections faced by our ancestors are still with us.

This simple BBC animation, which is well worth reading, shows how hundreds of millions have died over the last 1,500 years. Many viruses such as the H1N1 virus (which caused the spanish flu pandemic in 1918-1920), are still circulating today, albeit in a more benign strain. Seasonal flu still kills 650,000 worldwide each year.

Now, we are facing the spectre of the new Sars coronavirus, which triggers the respiratory disease Covid-19. Sars-Cov-2, as it is known, is an evolved version of the 2003 Sars virus and is regarded by disease specialists as unique, thanks to its range of symptoms – from none to deadly – and high levels of transmission by people without symptoms or before they develop them.

More than one million have died with the virus so far, and with the suite of vaccines being developed, it is hoped that within five years, hopefully much sooner, these vaccines will be being used throughout the world. This should enable the World to accumulate enough immunity and learn how to live with small resurgent outbreaks.

And as the eradication of smallpox proved, when the world’s scientific community comes together, great things are possible. Although the new coronavirus is a much trickier challenge, because of its high levels of asymptomatic transmission, the “incredible” global quest for a solution will win through.

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