Like everyone else, I’ve been following the news about the COVID-19 pandemic, and the reactions in this country and others to it. Some are great, and some are really disturbing. There are areas struggling to deal with this, and others that seem to think they’re immune to it. I spent the first 20 years of my working life in medical research, and along the way, I’ve met many experts. Accordingly, I have some thoughts about this pandemic.
1. This was predictable. No, not this virus in particular, but that a pandemic was going to happen has been the subject of many studies, novels, and movies. 15 years ago, President Bush started programs to plan for dealing with one, and President Obama continued that and developed them further. There’s also the fact that one only has to look at history. The “Black Death” of the 14’th century took around 7 years to spread across Europe, wiping out a large percentage (estimates range up to 60% ) of the population. That’s when most people didn’t move more than a few miles from their homes, and transportation was very slow. The Spanish Flu of 1918 spread around the world, and killed between 1 to 6 percent of the world’s population. Again, borders didn’t matter, and transportation networks were still developing. Those are simply the most prominent of several pandemics in history, and even in recent history.
2. The lesson of history is that diseases don’t respect borders, social status, religion, race, or ethnicity. Every day, we see stories of famous and wealthy people who have this disease, and obituaries for the ones who died. There are now cases in every country. I’ve seen blame placed on Asians, statements saying that this isn’t going to be a problem because they don’t have “any Chinese here,” as well as others believing that God will protect them, and younger people thinking it won’t be bad for them or they won’t get it. That’s not just stupid, it’s dangerous. Do you think being in a rural area is going to make the diseases skip you? No, it just means you’ll get it later. Cities usually are the first to see it when pandemics start. That’s because you have a lot of people in a small area.
3. Don’t expect a cure or vaccine right away. I know some people (including the President) have been jumping on the chloroquine bandwagon, and other drugs have been touted. Reality? Most of them probably won’t work, and I include chloroquine in that. I’ve been around for too many terrific “wow!” preliminary results that turned out to be nothing. Vaccines? I’ve worked in vaccine development, as well as being a vaccine test subject. Two of them turned out to be failures in final testing. That’s why you see some companies saying they have back-up candidates, because the first candidate that looks good now may not actually work. Right now we’re in the “throw everything and the kitchen sink at it” phase, and maybe something will work. To test the drugs and vaccine candidates to see if they work takes time, and as much as we’ve been conditioned to expect quick results, there’s no way around that.
4. This will happen again. I don’t know when another pandemic will occur, and I don’t know what disease it will be. No one does. But I do know that one will happen, because that’s another lesson of history. Six years ago, I wrote a blog post about diseases that are out there, that most people have never heard of. Those were just the ones I know about, and they’re not all that far away. In fact, some are native to this country. Add to that all the animal diseases we either know of, or don’t know about, that might make the jump to humans like the corona virus has. Which is why those plans for dealing with a pandemic were important, and why “wasteful spending” on research is important. It’s why we need better monitoring, coordination between countries, and plans that take the lessons learned from this pandemic. Because sometimes the things that go bump in the night show up in the daytime, and do a lot of damage before we can bump back.