Rarely in the history of the world have so many scientists been at work in so many places simultaneously trying to find treatments and hopefully a vaccine for a single disease. The new coronavirus isn’t the first pandemic the world has seen, and like many viruses which came before it seems to have few boundaries. With its airborne transmission, it has attacked young and old, every race, and every sexual preference on every continent except Antarctica. In a few months, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has already killed 138,000 people worldwide — and counting.
Of the pandemics over the last century, certainly the HIV/AIDS pandemic has been deadlier, killing 32 million people since 1981, though death tolls have leveled off as new treatments made the disease far more manageable. While the “Hong Kong Flu” of 1968 had a low mortality rate, it still resulted in the death of 1 million people worldwide. The so-called “Asian Flu” of 1957-1958 originated in China and wiped out at least 1.1 million people, including at least 116,000 in the U.S. alone. But those don’t compare to the influenza pandemic of 1918 — often called “Spanish flu” — which ended the lives of 50 million people. Unlike COVID-19, that flu strain routinely struck down completely healthy young adults.
The nature of each of the aforementioned viruses is very different. Understanding what those differences are and answering all-important questions about the specifics of COVID-19 is the key to finding treatments and a vaccine.
This month, the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease awarded a contract to the Tulane National Primate Research Center — located in Covington — to test potential vaccines and treatments to combat this ubiquitous virus. The research beginning there in just a few weeks will attempt to answer many vexing questions.