By Jim Poling Sr.
Bad information vomited across social media is so prevalent that it’s even showing up in U.S. presidential addresses.
Newly-sworn President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech last week contained a bad piece of social media junk. Early in the speech he referred to the “once-in-a-century virus” stalking the country. He, of course, was talking about the Covid-19 pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people across North America, millions around the world.
There is no such thing as a “once-in-a-century” virus or pandemic. It’s nonsense perpetrated on Facebook and other platforms about pandemics occurring every 100 years – 1720 plague, 1820 cholera, 1920 Spanish Flu, 2020 Covid-19.
It’s petty of me to criticize Biden for referring to “once-in-a-century.” We all know what he meant: comparison between two horrid pandemics 100 years apart – the 1918 Spanish Flu and Covid-19 in 2020.
But there is more at issue here. The 100-year references perpetrate beliefs that these killer pandemics are rare. Many expect that once Covid-19 goes away, it will be many decades before we see another.
Pandemics no longer are rare. Thinking that way sets us up for another disaster of weak leadership and unpreparedness like the one we are suffering through.
There have been half a dozen pandemics in the last century – Spanish Flu 1918-20, Asian flu 1956-58, Hong Kong flu 1968, HIV-AIDS 2005-2012, SARS 2003, Swine Flu 2009. Plus, dozens of serious epidemics.
(Pandemics are epidemics that spread across many countries or continents. Epidemics are serious disease outbreaks that affect large numbers of people in a community or a region).
There are plenty of warnings that more pandemics are on the way. There were numerous warnings that the current pandemic was coming.
The Ontario SARS report gave warnings and recommendations roughly 15 years ago. The book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic gave the warnings in 2012.
Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates warned of it in 2015. Various research studies warned of it over the past few years.
Political leaders around the world shrugged and ignored the warnings, then responded with Milquetoast actions when they saw it had arrived.
Boris Johnson, the British prime minister who has trouble finding his hairbrush in the morning, bounced about like a ping pong ball in his responses to Covid-19. The result has been disaster; British cases closing in on four million, with close to 100,000 dead.
Little needs to be said about our neighbour to the south, a world-leading nation reduced to a garbage dump fire. Its former president, now known as Trumpinocchio, or Igor Trumpinov, simply ignored it, or called it fake news.
The Canadian response has consisted mainly of the prime minister daily standing in front of a microphone telling us the federal government has ordered tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses.
Canada ranks No. 1 in the world in amounts of vaccine doses ordered, but is far behind other countries in the number of doses administered.
Canada’s situation will get worse. Pfizer-BioNTech, currently the main supplier of Covid-19 vaccine, has cut Canadian deliveries by 50 per cent for the next month or so. At the start of this week fewer than 90,000 of 38 million Canadians had been fully vaccinated and many of us will not feel the needle until summer or fall or perhaps even next year.
What has happened, and continues to happen, is a disaster caused by unprepared, unfocussed leadership. There’s little we can do about it now, except to wait for our turn to be vaccinated while following the advice of our medical experts.
We need to turn our attention to being properly prepared for the next pandemic. We all need to become better informed about deadly viruses, what causes them and encouraging intelligent pandemic planning and stockpiling of equipment and supplies.
Most of all we need to ensure that medical experts are front and centre during the next pandemic while politicians are kept in the background, where they cannot muddle the communication so vital in serious disease outbreaks.
When this is all over don’t push it to the rear of your thoughts, because the next zoonotic outbreak is out there waiting to be spilled into the human population by some bat, monkey or other animal host.