A century after the influenza virus pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu), the United States now has a record of nearly 700,000 deaths due to Covid-19. This week, the number of deaths associated with the new coronavirus surpassed the estimated number of deaths recorded between 1918 and 1920.
For nearly two years, the Spanish flu killed about 675,000 Americans, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the new coronavirus was identified in December 2019, this number has already been surpassed in covid-19 deaths in the country, according to data released by Johns Hopkins University.
With the Delta variant, deaths in the US average more than 1,900 per day – the highest level since the beginning of March – and the number of deaths in the country has already exceeded 679,000. The US population a century ago was only a third of what it is today, which means the covid-19 pandemic has reached a much wider range and is deadlier across the country.
However, considering the two periods, the covid-19 pandemic is a “colossal tragedy”, considering the advances in scientific knowledge since then, despite the lack of adherence by the population to vaccination.
Contrary to what happened 100 years ago, there are vaccines that protect against the severe form of the disease caused by the new coronavirus. However, doubts and uncertainties about the safety and efficacy of vaccines are constraining the immunization process in the US – currently, about 36 percent of people over 12 years of age have not yet been fully vaccinated.
“Big interests of American society – and, worse, government officials – ignored this,” University of Michigan medical historian Howard Markel lamented in statements to the Associated Press about the opportunity to vaccinate all eligible so far.
The truth is that, since Joe Biden took over the US Presidency, the vaccination process has accelerated and contributed to the decrease in the rate of deaths due to covid-19 in the country, although cases have increased again in August with the spread of Delta variant. Furthermore, the actual death toll may be much higher than the official total because, as in the previous pandemic, it is an estimate.
Covid-19 deadlier than Spanish flu?
The Spanish flu pandemic killed 50 million people around the world, at a time when the planet had a quarter of the population it has today. And, until the appearance of covid-19, it was considered the worst pandemic in history.
Global deaths from covid-19 are currently at 4.6 million. In this sense, the relative impact of the 20th-century pandemic will have been more lethal than that of the pandemic we are now facing, as it affected a larger portion of the population.
But in the United States, the covid-19 pandemic has become the deadliest in the country’s history, surpassing the deaths attributed to the Spanish flu (in absolute terms). That is, the Spanish flu only surpasses the current pandemic in terms of the percentage of deaths, because the American population was three times smaller.
Experts believe that, according to STAT News, if the infection, mortality, and vaccination rates remain at current values, covid-19 will be the deadliest event in the US, surpassing the most pessimistic calculations of the number. of deaths during the Civil War (about 750,000).
The 1918 flu, caused by the influenza virus, would be wrongly called the Spanish flu because it was confirmed for the first time in Spain. It will have been disseminated by greater mobility due to the First World War. At the time there was no vaccine to prevent more severe symptoms or medication to cure the infection. Still, mobility was reduced and the population smaller.
In the 21st century, constant air travel and mass migrations are constantly threatening to increase the number of victims of covid-19. In addition to the new variants that have emerged, most of the world’s population is not vaccinated.
“We have a lot more infection control, a lot more ability to support people who are sick. We have modern medicine,” said Ann Marie Kimball, a retired professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington. “But we have a lot more people and a lot more mobility. The fear is that, eventually, a new variant will bypass the scope of the vaccine.”
Is vaccination a solution?
Like the influenza virus, SARS-CoV-2 may not be completely eradicated. In fact, the scientific community even predicts that it will become a seasonal disease with mild symptoms, as humans become immune, or more resistant, with vaccination and infection of this virus – which may take some time.
“We’re hoping it’s like catching the flu or a cold, but we have no guarantees,” explained Rustom Antia, a biologist at Emory University, who suggests an optimistic scenario that this could happen in a few years.
To aggravate the current scenario, experts believe that the coming winter will bring new outbreaks, according to the University of Washington model, which estimates that another 100,000 Americans will die by January 2022, which could raise the total number of victims in the United States. The US to 776,000 deaths.
Worldwide, only about 43 percent of the population has ever been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to data from Our World in Data.
“We know that all pandemics come to an end,” recalled Jeremy Brown, director of the emergency investigation at the National Institutes of Health. “The problem is, they can do terrible things while they’re active.”
Covid-19 could have been less lethal in the United States if more people had been vaccinated earlier, “and we still have the opportunity to reverse that.”
“We often don’t see how lucky we are to take these things for granted,” he continued.
For those who refuse vaccination and hope that with a SARS-CoV-2 infection they will be immune to the virus, Kimball recalled: “The problem is that you have to survive the infection to gain immunity. It’s easier to go to the pharmacy and get an injection “.
Vaccination and survival from infection are the main factors in improving the immune system. Furthermore, breastfed babies also gain some immunity through their mothers.
In this optimistic scenario, school-age children can develop only mild illnesses that brace the immune system. As children grow older, they carry the memory of the immune response, so when they are older and more vulnerable, the new coronavirus is no more dangerous than normal flu. The same goes for teenagers who are currently vaccinated: their immune system will be stronger with the vaccination.
“We are all going to be vaccinated. The problem is whether the infections are serious,” said Rustom Antia.
This happened with the H1N1 flu virus, responsible for the 1918 pandemic. When there were many immune people, it ended up weakening through mutations. Even today, H1N1 circulates in the community, but there is acquired immunity through infection and vaccination.
Source: With Agencies