1918 and Now
It was a very difficult time. The world was at war. American Troops were fighting and dying in the trenches of Europe as they faced new and powerful weapons which the world had not seen before. There was, also, one completely new enemy who, seemingly out of nowhere, appeared and devastated soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict. That foe was the 1918 influenza virus. During this outbreak, the virus transformed to a more powerful form during the summer of 1918 and then spread back to America to further infect a weary public who were understandably tired of wearing masks, social distancing and restricting their lives to contain the influenza virus. The result was devastating. In the end, 675,000 American’s would lose their lives to the virus.
Shockingly, a century later, the Covid virus is approaching that prior American death toll of 1918/1919. The setup is familiar: a mutating virus evolving to more powerful forms infecting a public fed up with restricting their lives. So far, close to that prior death toll, 562,296 Americans have lost their lives to the Covid virus during the current pandemic. Many other people have died because they were not able to or chose not to access the care that they needed for other medical conditions.
Although there are similarities between the two situations, one huge positive factor sets the pandemics apart: the effective Covid vaccines we have today. In 1918, no vaccine was available to turn the tide. It is miraculous that the creative knowledge of our scientists was able to produce several effective Covid vaccines so early in the battle with the virus. These vaccines are the tools that will allow us to wrestle free of the Covid virus. This is an opportunity Americans did not have in 1918/1919. We should not let this blessing go to waste.
In April, data shows that Americans are beginning to move about as they have not done for the last 16 months. A drive through our town shows few people wearing masks. Although we may feel that we are “done” with the Covid virus, it is clearly not done with us. To safely advance our freedoms, return to economic vitality and share good times with friends and family, enough people in our community need to become immune to the Covid virus. This can occur either through infection (with unacceptable complications including death) or through vaccination. Fortunately, we don’t need 100% of the population to become immune, but we do need enough immunity to interrupt the chain of transmission of the virus. This is called “herd immunity”.
Right now, about 26% percent (1 in every 4 people) of our community have been vaccinated. Studies estimate that about 18% of Idahoans show some degree of immunity from infection by the virus. This means that roughly 44 percent (about 8 out of every 20 people) of our community probably have immunity against the virus and will help to disrupt its spread in our community. Unfortunately, we need more in our community to get vaccinated to hit the threshold necessary to stop the virus. Although, with new strains of the virus showing up, there is some uncertainty what that number needs to be, it is on the order of 70-85% (7 out of every 10 people). When we stop the virus, we will also significantly reduce its ability to mutate into new powerful forms. Stopping the transmission of the virus and reducing the opportunity for new strains to develop is the true “endgame” of this pandemic.
Although we still have a way to go, the outcome of the pandemic is now within our control. If you are over the age of 16 and have not been vaccinated, getting vaccinated now is an opportunity to do your part for yourself while supporting the safety and return to “normal life” for all of us. Vaccines are in good supply and available in our community at Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics and some of our local pharmacies. Call 208-476-5777 to make an appointment today to take advantage of what Americans did not have in 1918, safe and effective vaccines to stop the virus and return life to normal.