What we can learn from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic

What we can learn from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic

One hundred years ago, the Spanish flu wreaked havoc on humanity and posed a threat to the entire world. The highly-contagious and rapidly-fatal disease killed anywhere from 20 to 100 million people. This World Immunization Week, we are reflecting on the advances in vaccines that have changed the world since this outbreak a century ago, and the areas where progress is still needed.

The Spanish flu appeared in the fall of 1918 at the end of World War I, adding immense danger to both the battlefield and the home front. During the war, approximately 40% of U.S. Navy and 36% of U.S. Army members became infected. More American soldiers died from the virus than in combat during the Great War.

Embed from Getty Images

The disease didn’t only cause harm to the infected. Businesses, health departments, and even some farms were closed due to sick workers. The disease hindered society as a whole, creating harsh conditions and obstacles for everyone.

In this time of crisis, governments turned to scientists for solutions. Multiple vaccines were developed and tested, though the vaccines developed at the time we not effective at preventing people from getting the disease.

Vaccines have improved over the years, and protect against a number of deadly diseases — which may be part of the reason we haven’t seen such a deadly outbreak over the last century. For example, smallpox wreaked havoc on the world for centuries, killing up to 500 million people, before becoming the first disease to be completely eradicated by vaccines. Polio may also soon join the list of eradicated diseases thanks to an effective vaccination; currently, polio is 99.9% eradicated and only exists in three countries.

Embed from Getty Images

There is also hope that other diseases can meet the same fate of the Spanish flu in the decades to come. Though a vaccination currently exists for tuberculosis, scientists are working to create one that is more effective. Vaccinations for malaria and HIV/AIDS are also in development, each showing promising results so far.

Investing in the development and delivery of vaccines will continue to save countless people and could eventually put a stop to some of the world’s most deadly illnesses. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is doing just that by providing access to vaccines in the poorest countries to ensure that each child has the opportunity to live a healthy life. Organizations like Gavi are vital to ending preventable diseases for those in vulnerable situations.

As history has shown us, diseases don’t just infect people; whole communities suffer when its population faces illness. With hope, in one hundred years someone else will mark World Vaccination Week by recounting how we wiped out polio and some of the deadliest diseases of our generation with the help of vaccinations.

Do you want to join the fight against preventable diseases? Become a ONE member today!


Join the fight against extreme poverty

Join the fight against extreme poverty

By signing you agree to ONE’s privacy policy, including to the transfer of your information to ONE’s servers in the United States.

Do you want to stay informed about how you can help fight against extreme poverty?

Sign up to receive emails from ONE and join millions of people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease. We’ll only ever ask for your voice, not your money. You can unsubscribe at any time.
Privacy options
Are you sure? If you select 'Yes' we can let you know how you can make a difference. You can unsubscribe at any time.

By signing you agree to ONE's privacy policy, including to the transfer of your information to ONE.org's servers in the United States.

You agree to receive occasional updates about ONE's campaigns. You can unsubscribe at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply

Related Articles