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Why a vaccine alone won’t put an end to the pandemic

To curb the spread of smallpox decades ago, authorities had to further rely on a suite of low-tech measures. Reining in Covid-19 will be similar

Although the eradication of smallpox is often held up as proof of the definitive success of vaccines, it should not be forgotten that smallpox raged for centuries before it was finally brought to an end. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

Smallpox killed countless millions—300 million people in the 20th century alone—before it was finally declared eradicated on May 8th 1980. It was a momentous day, marking what the current director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called the greatest “public health triumph in world history”.

Smallpox, as one researcher has emphasised, “was eradicated solely through vaccination”. Today, this achievement feels particularly encouraging and seems ready for a reboot as governments worldwide tell the public that the Covid vaccine will soon end the pandemic and return life to normal.

Worldwide, advance reviews are flooding in. Vaccines are…

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