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Scientists reckon eliminating COVID-19 will be easier than polio, harder than smallpox – just buckle in for a wait

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In what is good news to everyone except possibly the most introverted masochists out there, boffins have decided that it is possible to rid the earth of COVID. In fact, it's probably easier to do than polio, but harder than smallpox, said researchers in the online journal BMJ Global Health.

The team of New Zealand public health physicians, epidemiologists, and catastrophic risk researchers compared polio, smallpox, and COVID-19 on technical, sociopolitical, and economic factors.

Measured factors included vaccine availability and effectiveness; lifelong immunity; impact of public health measures; government messaging; economic and social motivation; and public acceptance of infection control measures, among others.

On a scale of 0 to 3, the median score for COVID-19 was 1.6, compared to polio's 1.5 and smallpox's 2.7.

COVID won its position above polio partially due to global motivation to put an end to the financial and social havoc caused by the disease. The authors said the main challenge lies in adequate vaccine distribution and keeping up with variants. Animal reservoirs also present a potential challenge, as do high costs for updating health systems.

Although vaccine technology will need to be continually updated to keep up with the variants, eventually science is expected to catch up with the virus.

"There are of course limits to viral evolution, so we can expect the virus to eventually reach peak fitness, and new vaccines can be formulated," wrote the researchers.

Vaccination globally eradicated smallpox, the famine-causing cattle disease called rinderpest, and two of the three serotypes of poliovirus.

And while vaccination is a good path to eliminating the virus, problems in mass distribution, setbacks in international cooperation, or anti-science aggression can be mediated by other factors like border control, physical distancing, mask wearing, and contact tracing. The study authors point out that China eradicated malaria without vaccines and certain countries have kept COVID at bay for long periods of time, proving it is possible.

The scientists warned eradication could take years and conceded that their work was only a very preliminary analysis.

"There is a need for a more formal expert review of the feasibility and desirability of attempting COVID-19 eradication by the WHO or other agencies," wrote the team.

Still, The Register bloody hopes they are right. ®

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