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Wiping out coronavirus around the world forever may take years

LDS Hospital workers show off their injection sites after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. (KSL-TV)

The good news is that the novel coronavirus vaccines are here in historically short time. And, efforts to immunize people around the world against COVID-19 are rolling out, albeit slowly. But the bad news is that historically speaking, eradicating the virus worldwide may take years and many more lives.

Recovering from a viral infection is usually associated with developing immunity against the virus.

Acquired immunity against a disease for an individual happens in one of two ways. The first is through natural infection — by a bacterium, virus or other microorganisms. The second is through immunization by a vaccine.

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It is possible to be sick with COVID-19 and be reinfected, although it is rare. COVID-19 may be more like seasonal viruses, such as the cold or flu, for which humans don’t retain long-term immunity. So keeping the pandemic at bay may require repeated vaccinations.

Achieving herd immunity through vaccination theoretically has the potential of getting the globe to zero cases of COVID-19. But the number of people who need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity varies from disease to disease.

For a highly transmissible virus like measles, which can survive outside the body for up to two hours, the threshold is high.  In this case, it’s as high as 90-95% for a population to become immune and stop the disease from spreading freely. The consensus is that it will be around 60-70% of the population to achieve immunity against the novel coronavirus. 

Until the threshold for herd immunity has been reached, the population as a whole won’t be protected from a disease.

A slow start to wiping out coronavirus

The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed fell well short of vaccinating 20 million Americans by the end of the year. Vaccinations in the U.S. began Dec. 14.

The New York Times reported Monday that about 4.6 million people in the United States have received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

During the past week, the U.S. has averaged 2,637 coronavirus deaths every day, according to Johns Hopkins University. December has been the deadliest month yet of this pandemic: 77,572 lives lost, as CNN reported Monday.

For coronavirus to be eliminated across the globe, the vaccine will need to be injected into the arms of more than 7 billion people. And that will take years.

Wiping out coronavirus or any disease takes a long time 

It took more than 30 years to largely eradicate polio. The disease is now found only in Afghanistan and Pakistan. War-ravaged Syria saw its first case of polio in 14 years in 2013 as vaccination rates around the country sank to 52%, according to GlobalPost.

According to a CDC report, “Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999,” prior to 1900, vaccines for smallpox, rabies, typhoid, cholera and plague had been developed in the U.S.

Despite the development of a vaccine, typhoid fever affects an estimated 11 million to 21 million people worldwide, according to the CDC.

Each year, 1.3 million to 4 million people worldwide suffer from cholera, and 21,000 to 143,000 people die from the disease according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Currently, cholera is a high-risk disease in sub-Saharan Africa where clean water and sanitation are often lacking.

In Madagascar, the bubonic plague — or “Black Death” as it was known in the 14th century — has killed 71 people and infected 263 since September.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, has made a comeback recently. The highly contagious disease, which causes violent fits of coughing that result in passing out, vomiting and even broken ribs, was eradicated almost entirely in 1976. There were only 1,010 cases of the disease then. But about 28,660 cases of whooping cough were reported to the CDC in 2014 — an 18 percent increase from 2013, reported GlobalPost.

Efforts to eradicate malaria in the mid-20th century, primarily through spraying anti-mosquito insecticides, failed largely because the interventions were insufficiently effective in all infected areas over time, Also, mosquitoes developed resistance to the insecticides.

Smallpox: officially eradicated

Smallpox has been recorded in humans for more than 3,000 years. But smallpox is unique because it’s the only infectious disease to have ever been eradicated.

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 Somalia, according to the CDC. 

Prior to 1980, the disease killed 3 out of every 10 people who became infected, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared smallpox eradicated in 1980.

An estimated 300 million people around the world died from smallpox in the 20th century, according to a report by the BBC.

Killer flu pandemic

The 1918 H1N1 flu pandemic (also referred to as the “Spanish influenza” or “Spanish flu”) killed an estimated 675,000 Americans and was the deadliest flu pandemic in modern history.

The pandemic began in early March 1918 and had the hallmarks of a seasonal flu, although a highly contagious and virulent strain.

While the global pandemic lasted two years, a significant number of deaths were packed into three cruel months in the fall of 1918. Historians now believe that the lethality of the Spanish flu’s “second wave” was caused by a mutated virus spread by movements of troops during World War I, according to history.com

The Spanish flu infected 500 million people worldwide and killed an estimated 20 million to 50 million victims.


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronavirus spreads person to person, similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself and others per CDC recommendations.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet).
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities).
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A 

Utah’s Coronavirus Information 

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States