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Smallpox Versus Covid-19 – What Should We Learn?


I have a small scar on my left arm – a reminder of the smallpox pandemic that killed as many as three out of every 10 people infected and claimed the lives of some 300 million people since 1900. The smallpox vaccination left this small scar. But today, younger persons have no such scar. Why not?


The vaccine against smallpox proved to be extraordinarily effective. And, the intensive, worldwide vaccination campaign was so successful that the World Health Organization certified global eradication of the disease in 1980. No existing smallpox virus meant no longer any need to continue vaccination.


Now, smallpox disease and prevention are not identical to COVID-19. Nevertheless, what pearls can be gleaned from smallpox history and applied to the COVID-19 pandemic? For one, the remarkable effectiveness of certain vaccines. Those currently available in North America are more than 90% effective in preventing serious disease. Another pearl is the power of worldwide resolve to vaccinate all persons. This strategy has worked for smallpox, measles, pertussis, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic will not be controlled until everyone is protected. With the coming fall season and greater indoor activities, unvaccinated persons will be at especially high risk.


Suspicion and disinformation ‘plague’ the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination. These obstacles are not new. They obstructed the eradication of smallpox at every corner. But seeing the proof of vaccine effectiveness is as easy to see as looking at your arm. You have no smallpox vaccination scar because the vaccination worked!

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