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Smallpox is the only human disease that we have eradicated. Can we do it again for Covid-19?

Let’s try to answer this question.

How was smallpox eradicated?

In 1980, WHO announced the world was free of Smallpox.

Before that, trade, war, conquests, and imperialism over many centuries enabled it to spread the world over and kill hundreds of millions of people in its path.

It was a deadly disease - 3 to 4 out of 10 infected people died. In India alone, 15000 people died in the 1974 smallpox epidemic.

There were three key factors that led to the eradication of smallpox

  1. Development of vaccine 
  2. Sustained global cooperation
  3. Effective vaccination programs

In the late 1700s, a scientist named Edward Jenner developed a brand new way to fight smallpox - a vaccine. This was the world’s first vaccine.

By the mid-1900s, smallpox was eradicated from North America and Europe.

However, Asia, Africa and South America still had regular outbreaks.

As long as it existed in one place, it was a threat to everyone everywhere.

So, in 1967, the WHO created a unified plan to eradicate smallpox once and for all.

Nations cooperated and a sustained global campaign led to the eradication of the disease by May 1980.

So, can we do this for Covid-19?

Let’s look at the three factors:

1. Vaccines

These aren’t a problem anymore. Scientists have done a wonderful job in creating many safe and effective vaccines in record time.

2. Global cooperation

Since the beginning of the pandemic, governments the world over have unfortunately taken a nationalistic approach to the pandemic.

In the early days, some blocked exports of protective equipment, and vital medicines.

The same continues to be true when it comes to vaccines.

Rich countries have ordered many times more than their need, thus blocking out smaller countries.

COVAX - the international effort to provide vaccines to poorer countries - has been left woefully short of vaccines.

India’s ban on covid vaccine export has been a major cause, as the country itself continues to be significantly short of it’s own vaccine requirements.

America’s recent announcement of contributing 500M doses to COVAX over the next year is a good start.

Overall, the world has not produced enough vaccine shots fast enough, then squabbled over these limited supplies, and have left billions of people exposed to the disease.

Also, this gives the coronavirus time to spread further and wider
And to mutate into more infective and deadly forms.
Already, several “variants of concern” have cropped up and spread around the world, further increasing the pandemic’s devastation.

All in all, given the global approach to Covid-19, it is unlikely we will succeed in eradicating it.

So where does that leave us? Are we doomed?

Not quite.

Thankfully, eradication isn’t the only option.

Smallpox is the only disease we have ever eradicated.

It’s much more common for us to learn to manage a disease.

And that’s where many researchers think we’ll land with Covid-19:
We will vaccinate, however slowly.
Maybe we’ll even develop some therapeutics.
But we’ll manage.
Lockdowns and quarantines will end.
As immunity against the coronavirus develops globally, we might end up with a “weak” virus that we can manage with an annual vaccine.
This is what happens the world over with flu.

In the end, we will adjust and make peace with the situation. But we shouldn’t.

Covid-19 is hardly the worst disease that can come our way.

This pandemic has shown how ill-prepared we are to deal with such a situation.

Indeed, our true failure isn’t that we let it get to the stage that it did.

It’s that we forgot “united we stand, and divided we fall”.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is accurate as of release time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some information and data have changed since publication. So, if you’re reading this video a long time after its publication, we encourage you to stay informed on the latest news and recommendations from WHO and MoHFW.

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