Can the world eradicate COVID-19?
FORT MYERS, Fla. (WBBH) — In 1980, after a massive global effort, the World Health Organization declared that Smallpox had been eradicated. The CDC says it’s often considered the biggest achievement in international public health.
“Smallpox is the only (human) disease that the world has been able to completely eradicate,” Dr. Sharon Isern, a professor of Biological Sciences at FGCU, explained to NBC2.
Can it be done again with COVID-19? Can the world eradicate — completely wipe out — this deadly disease?
VACCINES: A CRUCIAL TOOL IN FIGHTING DISEASES
The rapid development of a vaccine for COVID-19 has been a crucial tool in combating the virus.
That was also the case for smallpox. The vaccine ultimately played a key role in helping to eradicate the disease.
However, there are also some big differences between COVID-19 and smallpox.
COVID-19: NO SYMPTOMS, BUT STILL SPREAD
One major challenge with COVID-19 is that it can be transmitted by people who don’t even know they have it — people with no symptoms.
That wasn’t the case with smallpox. It was visibly obvious when someone had contracted the disease, so it was much easier to isolate and trace.
“It’s very difficult to stop transmission when you can’t detect it — when you can’t see it, like you could with smallpox,” Isern explained.
ANIMALS CAN ALSO BE INFECTED WITH COVID-19
Another problem with COVID-19 is that it can be spread by animals.
Smallpox was only spread from human to human — that was critical in helping to wipe it out.
Even if the world stops human spread of COVID-19, it could still come back through animals.
“It is believed that it first came from bats, but it could’ve had some other intermediate, non-human hosts as well,” Isern explained.
WE LIKELY CANNOT ERADICATE COVID-19… SO WHAT’S AHEAD?
“I think it’s probably not possible to completely eradicate COVID,” Isern said. “It will most likely become endemic, meaning that it will persist and it will come back in pockets, there might be smaller outbreaks. But it’s something that I suspect we’ll continue to see for years to come.”
That means management will be key, Isern explained, and that humanity likely isn’t done getting vaccines for COVID-19.
“For those of us that have gotten vaccinated, how long does that protection last?” Isern wondered. “Will it last just a few months? Will it last a year? Will we need a booster of the same vaccine, or will the virus change enough that in future years, we just need a vaccine that looks a little bit different?”
Those answers aren’t entirely clear just yet. What is clear is that, unlike smallpox, this disease isn’t going away.
“I wouldn’t necessarily be afraid that COVID-19 is gonna stay with us. Everything else has stayed with us. The flu is still with us. Measles is still with us. Polio is still with us,” Isern explained. “It’s our ability to be able to isolate cases and be able to act on it so that spread can be reduced as much as possible. So they don’t become pandemics — just small outbreaks that can be contained.”