Pandemic Perspective #37 December 20, 2020
This is the last Pandemic Perspective of 2020 and I’d like to make it as positive and forward-looking as is realistic, considering the enormous toll that this virus has taken in less than one year.
First, although this observation has some easily challenged elements, the fatality rate has decreased dramatically since April 2020. I began recording the statistics from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center when the global fatality rate was 7.2 percent; it is now 2.2 percent. In the U.S. the rate has fallen from 5.8 percent to 1.8 percent. In San Diego County it is 1.0 percent. Unfortunately, reporting is far from accurate but the trend is clear. Perhaps most of the seeming improvement is because testing has increased dramatically. Also, most of the deaths have occurred among the elderly who were not adequately protected in the early months of the pandemic. They are still the most vulnerable group but better safeguards are in place. A third factor is that physicians are simply getting better at treating the disease: more skillful ventilator use, antiviral drugs and other medications such as steroids and anticoagulants.
The vaccine rollout has begun and in spite of political wrangling we may see that half the U.S. population will have been immunized by the start of summer. But there’s more to the story. The development of a variety of new vaccine technologies promises that the control of infectious diseases will have made a quantum leap that would not have occurred without the stimulus of this pandemic. Innovations in logistics will benefit us when the next pandemic arrives.
And here is the perspective of all perspectives: the comparison between COVID-19 and The Great Influenza/Spanish Flu of 1918-19. The pandemic of a century ago killed approximately 50 times as many persons as the present one in only two years – perhaps as many as 100 million humans! Then as now, reporting was not accurate. The pandemic began during the First World War and the combatants purposely did not reveal the extent of the epidemic for political reasons. Then as now, misdiagnoses were common. Viruses had not yet been discovered in 1918 nor had antibiotics. The 20-40 year age group was severely affected and many children succumbed; COVID-19 has claimed very few young persons. No child below the age of 19 has died of the coronavirus in San Diego County at the time of this writing. And there was no vaccine in 1918.
Without sounding like a Pollyanna I feel that the trends and advances of this year will bring a much brighter picture in 2021. With that thought, I wish a most Healthy and Happy New Year to all those who have been following this blog.