Just when everyone is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we are once again hit with news of rising covid cases all around the world, each time more deadly than the previous variants. Although the vaccination rate in Malaysia is increasing, with 50 per cent of the population have at least one dose, yet the daily cases are still on the rise, as well as death counts.

Speaking to CNBC, Dr Larry Brilliant, an epidemiologist who was part of the World Health Organization’s team that helped eradicate smallpox, said the delta variant of the coronavirus is “maybe the most contagious virus” ever. “I think we’re closer to the beginning than we are to the end [of the pandemic], and that’s not because the variant that we’re looking at right now is going to last that long,” said Brilliant, who is now the founder and CEO of a pandemic response consultancy, Pandefense Advisory.

He noted that only 15 per cent of the world population has been vaccinated and more than 100 countries have inoculated less than five per cent of their people. These few months, the U.S, India, China, Europe, Africa and Asia have been grappling with the highly transmissible Delta variant. “Unless we vaccinate everyone in 200 plus countries, there will still be new variants,” he said.

However, a new analysis by scientists from New Zealand have suggested that eradication is feasible, though it will be an uphill task, according to ScienceAlert.com. In the research, scientists did a meta-analysis of past studies and looked at comparisons with smallpox and polio.  “Is COVID-19 also potentially eradicable? Or is it inevitably endemic having established itself across the world?” the researchers write. “While our analysis is a preliminary effort, with various subjective components, it does seem to put COVID-19 eradicability into the realms of being possible, especially in terms of technical feasibility.”

While the virus is here to stay for now, yet small nations have successfully eliminated the virus. Temporarily before vaccines were released, through border control, mask wearing, physical distancing, testing, and contact tracing. Humans managed to eradicate at least one human disease completely before – smallpox. Humans lived alongside smallpox for 3,000 years before an extensive worldwide vaccine campaign succeeded in wiping it out in the ’70s. Polio is another success story of vaccination and (almost) eradication. Two out of the three serotypes of poliovirus have been eradicated globally, and cases of wild poliovirus decreased by 99 per cent from 1988 to 2018.

In the study, the researches created a three-point scoring system for 17 elimination variables, such as the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, lifespan of immunity, impact of public health measures, and effective government management of infection control messaging. The result the obtained is promising. they found that COVID-19 scored 28 points out of 51, compared to polio which scored 26 out of 51. While it is not a perfect score, it holds chances that eradication is a possibility.

“In this very preliminary analysis, COVID-19 eradication seems slightly more feasible than for polio, but much less so than for smallpox,” the team concludes. This means that the goal of eradication would be much harder than what it was for smallpox, but it’s not completely impossible. Nonetheless, there are obstacles that might hinders the chances of wiping out the virus completely. For example, vaccine hesitancy, and the rapid evolution of viral variants that can outrun global vaccine programs. There are also the high costs of implementing vaccination programs and upgrading health care systems, plus wild (or domestic) animals serving as a reservoir in which the virus might mutate further. 

“The upgrading of health systems to facilitate COVID-19 eradication could also have large co-benefits for controlling other diseases (and indeed eradicating measles as well),” the team writes. “Collectively these factors might mean that an ‘expected value’ analysis could ultimately estimate that the benefits outweigh the costs, even if eradication takes many years and has a significant risk of failure.”