100 years later, we are even more vulnerable to an influenza pandemic

100 years ago–in 1918–a global influenza pandemic killed 20 million to 50 million people worldwide; perhaps 20% to 33% of all people living at that time were infected.

100 years later, medical science has advanced tremendously in many ways and we have regular flu vaccines.  However, despite all that, “we are much more vulnerable today to a catastrophic influenza pandemic than we were in 1918.”

Why?  Compared to 1918, the global population has increased by at least 3 times.  For the vast majority of the world, crowded living conditions are worse.

And, while we do have regular flu vaccines today, the effectiveness of the vaccines is limited.  Plus, much of the world has no quick access to flu vaccines.  And, if vaccines continue to be made with eggs, distribution won’t improve and they will continue “to have only a limited impact.”

Also, “we are extremely vulnerable today to any disruption in international trade in lifesaving medicines and medical devices.”  “The vast majority of drugs that we use in [the United States] come from China.”  “There are no stockpiles [of drugs] anywhere.”  If China was affected by a pandemic or some other disaster or was disposed not to assist due to politics and this trade was impacted, “the collateral damage from people dying of all kinds of medical conditions will far exceed even the first months’ mortality associated with the flu.”

What is one large barrier to preparing adequately for a possible flu pandemic?  Science literacy … “so much antiscience has become the mainstay for how we make decisions.  You can’t do anything about … response to any of these issues if you don’t have a population that is willing to support them.”

Read the interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm (Rebecca Voelker, JAMA, September 28, 2018).

For more information about medical advances and preparedness, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.


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