If you listen to Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease official, the pandemic won’t be around for “a lot longer” thanks to speedy vaccine development. “The end is in sight,” he says, one year in, after Covid-19 has already infected over 100 million people and claimed more than two million lives.
The history of pandemics teaches us to expect otherwise.
The Black Death pandemic struck in 1346, ravaging the world through the early 1350s, causing as many as 200 million deaths. Many countries suffered recurring outbreaks every decade or so until the eighteenth century. Scientists are still left wondering how the deadly pandemic subsided.
The 1890 Russian flu, with a coronavirus as the culprit, killed 1 million people globally. Yearly outbreaks continued through 1895 until the population acquired partial immunity. It’s still with us today, mostly causing a common cold.
The 1918 Spanish flu infected 500 million people, roughly one-third of the world’s population, and killed some 50 million. That global pandemic lasted for two years until natural infections conferred immunity on those who recovered. A particular strain of the offending H1N1 virus became endemic, circulating for another forty years.
It took another pandemic, the Asian flu outbreak in 1957, to extinguish most of the 1918 strain. The H2N2 influenza virus killed more than one million people and, through a series of mutations, continued...