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Are Pandemics the New Normal?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Do I think the COVID-19 pandemic will be a lifelong event? No. Do I think this is the beginning of a lifetime of pandemics? Yes. The definition of a pandemic is “an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple continents or worldwide, affecting a substantial number of people”  (Lea, Bradbery and Hornby, n.d.)

What we’ve observed over the past year is countries in the global north seeing the end of the pandemic tunnel because of the mass vaccine rollouts (read: access to vaccines, the hoarding of vaccines and not sharing the formula). Countries such as the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States of America (USA) support the evidence that suggests vaccines are effective and aid in bending the curve (Charumilind, Lamb, Sabow and Wilson, 2021) McKinsey & Company shared an article which conveyed that the second half of 2021 would see the UK, Europe and the USA returning to pre-pandemic conditions – socially and economically. Although things may be slowly turning back to “normal” for the aforementioned countries, I’m curious to know how societies will navigate the collective emotional and psychological trauma that comes with living through a pandemic. How to process experiencing a new virus with little to no information and/or going back to “normal” when you have lost one, two, three or even more loved ones to this disease. Alas, in a capitalist society, “normal” usually means economic normality as that is the priority. For now, let’s contradict the notion of health and put our emotional, mental and spiritual well-being on the backburner so we can feed our bodies. And in order for the masses to make money to eat and survive, we need herd immunity.

Obstacles to herd immunity

The factors that may delay herd immunity are individuals that are hesitant towards vaccination, new variants that may not be deterred by the current vaccines and a lack of access to vaccines for certain countries or regions. I would urge anyone reading this to get vaccinated if the opportunity arises because as I previously mentioned: the data shows that vaccines work and getting vaccinated would not only protect you but everyone that you come across – whether it be a loved one or a stranger. Throughout this pandemic we have had a heightened responsibility to ensure that we do anything and everything we can to protect others because this situation has and literally continues to be a matter of life and death.

“Vaccines work. We have growing evidence that vaccines are effective, as real-world data from Israel and the United Kingdom validate the clinical-trial results by showing a sharp reduction in hospitalizations and deaths. Emerging evidence also indicates that vaccines likely reduce transmission considerably, though not to the same degree that they prevent severe disease.” (Charumilind, Lamb, Sabow and Wilson, 2021)

Variants such as B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 are cause for concern but specialists are monitoring how effective the current vaccines are against these strains. However, there is very little information as “we still do not know the impact of vaccines against severe disease from these strains” (Charumilind, Lamb, Sabow and Wilson, 2021)

As it stands, the pandemic may last longer in Africa but it will not last forever.

The access and distribution of vaccines has been disproportionate between the global north and the global south – with the former having too many and the latter not having enough. With regards to Africa, this is a reminder not to rely so heavily on international powers. The legacies of imperialism, slavery, colonialism and the continued exploitation of Africa have laid the ground for Africa’s inability to thrive independently. There should be more effort from governments to focus on the growth of the continent, its various industries and intracontinental relationships. We should not be waiting for vaccines from other countries and become indebted to colonial masters that have not even acknowledged their fundamental roles in the majority of Africa’s instability; socially and economically. As it stands, the pandemic may last longer in Africa but it will not last forever. 

ARE PANDEMICS NOW INEVITABLE?

According to epidemiologists, we have paved the way for pandemics, for zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 and future pandemics, by creating the climate crisis through rapid urbanisation, destroying wildlife, global travel  (Constable, Kushner and Rugerri, n.d.) And, most importantly, the global emissions caused by the top three greenhouse gas emitters: China, the European Union and the United States (Friedrich, Ge and Pickens, 2020) Although there are actions individuals can take to reduce their own carbon footprints (recycling, sustainable shopping, eating less meat etc.), it is futile without major corporations and the aforementioned countries taking the necessary steps to reduce and/or stop emitting greenhouse gasses.

However, there is hope! 81% of the contributors to greenhouse emissions signed The Paris Climate Agreement, an international treaty on climate change, with this figure moving to 93% when the USA re-joined in February 2021 ( (Briggs, 2021) If the objectives of the legally binding deal are realised, this could potentially reduce the chances of future pandemics. Whether another pandemic is inevitably on the horizon depends on our actions with the majority of the responsibility being on major corporations. 

Sesetu is a humanities graduate from South Africa. She is interested in writing, reading and learning new languages.
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