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Bridge Michigan
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Opinion | Survived the pandemic? Thank a scientist

Two years ago in March, 2020, a virus of unknown magnitude, force, and velocity landed on the shores of many countries including the United States. By March 2022, with globally 6 million deaths from COVID (970,000 in the nation and 32,000 in Michigan) and 500 million people infected worldwide (80 million in the nation, 2 million in Michigan), please let us not forget, we have survived this COVID scourge through science.

Herbert Smitherman Jr.
Herbert Smitherman Jr. is a professor of medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine and president and CEO of Health Centers Detroit Foundation. (Courtesy photo)

Compared to the 1918 influenza pandemic, the most severe pandemic in recent history, caused by the H1N1 influenza virus, we did not have the technology to develop a vaccine nor antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections associated with the virus, and humanity was decimated.

The 1918 influenza pandemic also infected approximately 500 million people or a third of the world’s population at the time. However as opposed to 6 million deaths worldwide from the pandemic in 2022, there were 50 million to 60 million deaths worldwide in the 1918 pandemic; an exponentially higher death rate in 1918 due to the lack of a vaccine.

Thus one hundred years later we are the only generation in human history that has been able to fight back against a pandemic with science through the development of a vaccine, to end that same pandemic in real time.

Please do not underestimate what we have accomplished as a human society and the impact of the 2020 COVID vaccine or the science behind it. The literal enormity of isolating the genetic code of COVID-19, developing a vaccine based on historic science, mass producing that vaccine, the logistics of distributing that vaccine across the globe, establishing sites and staff to administer the vaccine, agreeing to public policies and educating the public regarding COVID and the vaccine, getting shots in arms, developing a mechanism to test for the virus and the development of IV and oral treatments for COVID, has been a feat like no other in human history.

This is what science provides us. So when politicians recommend cutting science budgets, remember COVID and our scientific-based response to it, and please, as a society, think twice.

As a scientist, I thank God for science, our continued curiosity as human beings, our thirst for discovery and our eternal pursuit of new knowledge. It is what sustains humanity.

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