How Covid-19 Compares to Other Outbreaks – NBC Connecticut
Fight for masks. Opposition to vaccines.
You might think we’re talking about life during the Covid-19 pandemic.
But it turns out that this is not the first time that these issues have been the subject of heated debate.
So what have we learned about previous pandemics, especially how they end?
Frank Snowden – Professor Emeritus at Yale – has studied epidemic disease for decades and wrote the book “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present”.
“I had a pretty grim view that we had had a lot of dress rehearsals and that we were probably going to have another pandemic,” Snowden said.
This pandemic is a little more personal for him.
“I guess to improve my credibility on the streets, I also contracted Covid-19 although I’m very lucky to say I’m a mild case,” Snowden said.
Debates raged on how to deal with pandemics throughout history, including during the 1918 flu.
There have been anti-vaccination efforts.
“Posters have been displayed showing humans growing horns or tails and hooves,” Snowden said, explaining opposition to the smallpox vaccine at the time it was invented.
And there has been a decline in public health measures.
“Business interests didn’t like blockages and they set up an anti-masking league,” Snowden said.
This pandemic has big differences from others, including how much Covid-19 has changed so much in our world.
In fact, Snowden says the Spanish flu that has killed up to 50 million people or more is sometimes called the forgotten pandemic.
“Partly because it was lived through the days of World War I and people were focusing on it,” Snowden said.
Despite the sheer number of flu deaths, Snowden said she had little influence on things like art, culture or public policy in the long term.
Some previous pandemics ended after the virus was eradicated, although others continued. Snowden noted that in history only smallpox and polio have come close to being eradicated by human behavior.
And despite our scientific advances, it has been difficult to follow the Covid-19 and its mutations.
“What it looks like is that this disease is going to be with us as an endemic disease for the foreseeable future,” Snowden said.
Snowden believes the virus’ biggest impact on people and society will be felt for some time, including on mental health.
And the lessons of the past that seem hard to draw are that tackling a pandemic requires investments in public health and a unified response, especially now with vaccines.
“We are all in the same boat in this pandemic that no country is safe until the whole world is safe,” Snowden said.