The pandemic of 1918 is still with us. To this day the great-great-great grandchildren of the Spanish Flu are still extant among us in the form of variants. The anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers of the early 20th century saw to that. It’s a reality we’ve all grown accustomed to, so much so it even has a name: flu season.
Every year I get vaccinated against the latest strain. I do it because I believe in science. This year will be no exception. I recently received a text that annual flu vaccinations are once again available from the NHS (National Health Service) and I will line up to get one.
We have been astonishingly lucky, so much so that I don’t think most of us are aware of it. Despite the Spanish Flu, despite World Wars I and II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, AIDS, 9/11, the administration of Donald Trump and coronavirus, we have always managed to scrape through. No asteroid the size of Mount Everest has struck us. No nuclear holocaust has blocked out the sun or poisoned our atmosphere. Global warming hasn’t caused feedback loops to create universally unlivable temperatures. Yet.
The fact that we are all still here is proof that we haven’t been destroyed. And yet never before in my lifetime have there been so many different ways we could do it. Never before has global suicide been so credibly and immediately within our reach.
And yet many of us go on acting as if all is well and we will all be around forever. After all, the Spanish Flu didn’t wipe us out in 1918 so why should coronavirus? That we will learn to live with it seems to be the prevailing belief. And it may even be true. The problem is we don’t know for sure and, because we’ve had such an astonishing run of good luck, I think we have come to believe that we always will.
Consider the fact that contracting HIV in the 80s was practically a death sentence. It was a terrifying reality and any careless person could have contracted it. The good news is it was a weak virus that was very difficult to transmit. But what if it hadn’t been? What if the AIDS virus had been as contagious as chicken pox? The answer is there is absolutely no reason at all why it couldn’t have been. The fact that it wasn’t isn’t because we are special. It’s because of dumb luck.
There is no reason why coronavirus can’t get more deadly and more contagious. We know this because it already has. The Delta Variant is more deadly and more contagious than the original coronavirus. Vaccines that were once rated effective in the 90 percentile have dropped to 60 percentile efficacy. There is no reason why the next variant won’t be more deadly still.
For example, Coronavirus could mutate into a strain that could be 99% lethal and transmittable through a mask from across the street. Again, there’s nothing stopping that from happening. Think otherwise? Why? Because it’s never happened before? Of course it hasn’t. We’re still here, right?
If we hope to survive as a species we need to stop behaving as if we are immortal as a species, we need to grow up. There are four credible threats to our existence right now: a worldwide deadly pandemic, a nuclear holocaust, global warming and collision with a meteor or comet. As individuals we can do something about the first 3. Maybe, if we’re lucky. But we need to start and we need to start today. Because one day our unbelievable luck will run out. Let’s start making our own luck. This human childhood needs to end. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.