Coexisting with the Coronavirus

from The New Yorker

In the spring of 1846, a Dutch physician named Peter Ludwig Panum arrived on the Faroe Islands, a volcanic chain about two hundred miles northwest of Scotland. He found the Faroes to be a harsh and unforgiving place. The islands’ eight thousand inhabitants, who were Danish subjects at that time, spent their days outdoors, buffeted by sea winds, fishing and tending sheep. The conditions, Panum wrote, were unlikely “to prolong the lives of the inhabitants.” And yet, despite the scarcity of medical care and a diet of wind-dried, sometimes rancid meat, the average Faroese life span was forty-five years, which matched or exceeded that in mainland Denmark. The islanders benefitted from a near-complete lack of infectious disease; many illnesses, including smallpox and scarlet fever, rarely reached them. Panum had arrived to study a measles epidemic—the first outbreak of that virus in the Faroe Islands in sixty-five years.

For the most part, the course of the outbreak was devastating and predictable. In six months’ time, more than three-quarters of the islands’ inhabitants were infected, and about a hundred people died. But the outbreak was also unusual in many ways. In mainland Europe, measles was typically a childhood infection. Few Faroese children died in the outbreak; instead, adults bore the brunt. Their mortality rates increased with every decade of life until about the age of sixty-five, and then dropped off. It turned out that those who’d been infected during the islands’ last measles epidemic, in 1781, were still protected by the immunity that they’d acquired decades before. Of these “aged people,” Panum wrote, “not one, as far as I could find out by careful inquiry, was attacked the second time.”

Panum’s study remains a striking demonstration of a remarkable fact: the body remembers. It learns to recognize the pathogens it encounters, and, in some cases, it can hold on to those memories for decades, even a lifetime. Ancient civilizations knew about immune memory long before they understood it; Thucydides, in his account of the plague of Athens, wrote that “the same man was never attacked twice—never at least fatally.” Many of us draw our ideas about the immune system from stories like these. We think of immunity as a binary state: without it, we’re vulnerable; with it, we’re safe.

For many pathogens, however, including coronaviruses, immunity is less clear-cut. The coronavirus family includes sars-CoV-2, the virus responsible for covid-19, along with four seasonal coronaviruses—HCoV-229E, HCoV-OC43, HCoV-HKU1, and HCoV-NL63—which together cause an estimated ten to thirty per cent of common colds. Today, these seasonal coronaviruses are the cause of common childhood infections, as measles was in Panum’s time. In sharp contrast to measles, though, adults are reinfected by seasonal coronaviruses every few years.

More here.

Posted in Healthcare and tagged , , , .


  1. In “Coexisting with Coronavirus”, the author warns readers that due to various mutations and variations in both COVID-19 and human immune systems, eradication of the virus is extremely unrealistic. Therefore, the author argues that like the flu, COVID-19 will remain persistent around the world. However, despite emphasizing that the disease is likely to never disappear, the author strongly advocates for global vaccination. He states multiple reasons why global vaccination would be beneficial such as people gaining full or partial immunity to the virus and that despite antibodies’ likelihood to decline in the human body, they will not fully disappear and stop protecting people from the disease. Overall, the author presented a good argument on why COVID-19 will never disappear and how global vaccination would be beneficial to the world. His desire for global vaccination is a very controversial issue and it can be hard to fully justify or fully denounce. However due to all of the political and social issues involved with his promotion for global vaccination, it is hard to dispute his claim that COVID-19 will be persistent. Despite the author and many other political figures arguing global vaccination would be ideal for the health of the public, people have continued to argue that if a government mandates that everyone has to get the vaccine that would be a violation of several of their rights. Specifically in the United States, people have made arguments that the federal government mandating people to get vaccinated would go against multiple amendments in the Constitution. In addition, there are also divides on how the government wants people to get vaccinated and act and how some states do not agree with the United States government. Without people being forced to get the vaccine, people will continue to avoid getting it which will increase the likelihood of people catching COVID-19. Consequently, with people continuing to be susceptible to catching the virus, COVID-19 cases will continue to increase around the world. Therefore, it would take an overwhelming amount of evidence to refute the author’s claim that the virus will be controlled and go away like measles did.

  2. The author of this article suggests that the world should accept the fact that the Coronavirus will never be going away anytime soon. Even though the studies that he used in the article are nearly 200 years old now, both Covid and measles are similar since measles was the common cause of infection in children, just how the Coronavirus is today. The only way America can see a decline in Covid cases is if more people become vaccinated overtime. Currently, many American citizens are still unvaccinated because of beliefs that vaccinations will cause serious health issues in the long term. However, scientists and experts have proven that the Covid vaccine is very safe and effective against the Coronavirus disease. There have just been a few cases in America where people have passed away due to receiving the vaccine. While Americans may argue that forcing everyone to become vaccinated is unconstitutional and goes against their rights. However, if people do not take the vaccine against Covid, it will only become more difficult to fight this virus in the future. Even with the vast majority of the world population becoming vaccinated, we may never see herd immunity anytime soon due to new Covid mutations and strains. These mutations have caused the coronavirus to become more contagious have led people to test positive, even if they are fully vaccinated. Eventually, booster shots will become a necessity in order for people to be protected against Covid. This is also one of the main reasons why Covid is here to stay, similar to the seasonal flu. As new strains begin to spread across America and the world, people must take this virus as seriously as possible. Despite the Covid vaccinations proving to be very successful against this virus, people should always maintain social distance and wearing a mask at all times while indoors. Once those who are against Covid begin to get the vaccine and take this virus more seriously, cases will begin to decline over time. America’s economy would be devastated if Covid is not properly maintained.

  3. This article explains how we as a nation (and world) will have to live with the coronavirus for a long time. Xue goes into some detail about the measles epidemic of 1781 and talks about how those who were infected then were still protected by the immunity that they had created when the next measles outbreak occurred. She compared the measles situation to the current coronavirus outbreak that is infecting so many people. Those who had been infected by the first measles virus had built up a form of immunity that helped to protect them from the second outbreak later. Their bodies weren’t completely immue to the effects of the virus, but they were in much better shape than those who weren’t exposed prior. This “immunity” didn’t stop them from getting infected, but it did lessen the severity of the new round of the measles virus. Looking at this study, scientists wanted to test the theory of the body retaining a memory on those infected by the coronavirus. They looked into those who had been infected by the cornonavirus to detect the presence of antibodies, once they were found, they wanted to see if these antibodies would protect previously infect individuals from getting infected again. They found that initial exposure to the sars-CoV-2 virus built up antibodies in an individuals system that didn’t necessarily make them immune to getting infected, but lessened the effects if they were exposed a second time.
    The findings of this study is actually really crucial when describing the importance of getting vaccinated. Getting vaccinated familiarizes one’s immune system with a less deadly version of the virus so that it can recognize it and know how to fight against it if they are ever exposed to the real thing. Those who do not wish to get vaccinated probably believe that if the virus mutates, then the vaccine will be useless against the newer strain. This article touches on the reasons that isn’t true. While scientists have actually seen the coronavirus mutate multiple times before, the new variants are close enough to the original virus that most of the immune defenses built up by prior infection and/or vaccination will still provide protection against further exposure. Xue explains that the “memory” built up won’t last forever though, and that new more evolved versions of the virus may emerge “over a course of a decade or two” and may be able to get around the immunity previously created. To avoid tragedy, scientist will most likely create some sort of “booster” vaccination later that will serve as a sort of reminder for our immune systems of how to protect us against this virus.

  4. The article “Coexisting With the Coronavirus” compares the outbreak on an island nearly 200 years ago to our current global pandemic. The virus on the island years ago has some similarities to the coronavirus. Firstly, both viruses hit a place where widespread diseases were usually contained. In the article, the island is described as a place where diseases that were affecting the rest of world like smallpox were absent. The island was thriving in its own healthy isolation. When compared to America, yes there were widespread diseases before the pandemic, but none that weren’t able to be cured or was as overwhelming as the coronavirus. Another similarity is the speed of which the virus took over. While the reporter was at the island, measles was over taking the island. The once healthy island was over running with the virus in short time. Within six months, three-quarters of the island was infected. One hundred out of the eight thousand inhabitants would die. In America, covid took over in about a span of five months, leaving thousands dead before they even realized what was wrong. In the case of this virus, the islander’s mortality rates increased as years went on. Over the span of sixty five years, the islanders would create a natural immunity to the disease. So much so that this immunity would spread over generations. This study supports the claim that the human body remembers the genetic pattern of pathogens enough to combat them for decades. This is relevant to the coronavirus due to how many seeing the virus dying out once our immune systems start to get used to and fight off the virus better. In fact, I have been hearing this angle more and more recently. With people getting and not getting the virus, it seems as if the current direction is to coexist with the virus enough to combat it the same way we combat the flu. In my opinion, this option is the best when taking in consideration that some people are not willing to get vaccinated, wear a mask, or social distance. This sadly seems like the future that we’re bound to live in.

  5. In the article “Coexisting with the Coronavirus”, the author gives an approximation by the example of an outbreak of a virus on an island 200 years ago. The virus that broke out on this island at that time has some similarities to the current course of the Corona pandemic. He predicts that we must be prepared to live with the coronavirus for an indefinite period, perhaps forever. We still have a long way to go before the end of the pandemic. But what exactly does it look like? How much longer until we can live a normal life again? Will Corona ever go away completely?
    At the beginning of the crisis, it quickly seemed clear to everyone how to get the pandemic under control: through herd immunity. If we achieve this, normal life will be possible again. This can be achieved either by contagion, i.e., by gradually infecting everyone or at least a very large number of people with the virus and then making them immune. However, this would pose an unacceptable risk to a large number of people and would massively overburden the health care system. That is why attempts have been made to avoid infections as far as possible and to achieve herd immunity through vaccination. The vaccination campaign has been running since the end of 2020 – but when will we achieve herd immunity? This answer is not so simple. New virus variants and vaccination opponents make it more difficult to achieve so-called herd immunity. So, it seems pretty much impossible to build up that immunity.
    It is not certain that Corona will become endemic, but it is not unlikely either. The question of when Corona will end can thus be answered with an unsatisfactory “never”. So, we will have to learn to live with the virus, like the natives on the island 200 years ago. There is this saying, “man is a creature of habit,” which I think we can confirm after almost 2 years of the pandemic.

  6. Since the start of CoronaVirus in December 2019, the world has not been the same, nor will it be anytime soon. With time the human race has been able to adjust and grip on the version of life that we once had before Covid, but that version is still a home run away from reality. After reading the article, “Coexisting with the Coronavirus”, does a good job of comparing the CoronaVirus to an outbreak of measles in Faroe Island. The first comparison is that within six months, the virus has spread to three-fourths of the island, similar to the start of Covid that began in China and spread its way around the whole world leaving people in hospitals and families grieving for the loss of loved ones. As time passes, our human bodies begin developing antibodies to combat viruses as a natural immunization. The body will recognize the covid pathogens and remember them for a lifetime making covid less effective as the year’s pass. The flu is an example because we don’t fear it as much as covid, but at one point in our lives, we have all caught the flu and completed it leaving our bodies with the remembrance of the pathogens that invaded our bodies. Humans must accept the fact that covid will not be eradicated and will live among us for many years to come. This is also due to the ever-changing ability of a virus to produce a variant. The world is currently seeing the Delta variant of Covid that is already taking its toll on humans. The vaccine is also a question of the matter because not many people have confidence in its abilities. Regardless of that, the government and major industries like the NBA are mandating workers to get vaccinated to do their job. It is ultimately up to an individual if they want to get vaccinated and I understand why they wouldn’t like to as well. Throughout the year’s humans will keep developing stronger vaccines and methods to return to normal maskless activities. I for one miss being in a classroom without a mask on, but it’s all about our safety and the people around us. The fight between humans and Covid will be a tough one that goes back and forth with regards to who can adapt and combat the other quickly. Humans have started terribly but as years go by we begin to understand the virus to combat it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.