COVID-19 has now killed more Americans than the Spanish flu: 'We botched the response'
Worldwide, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919 continues to have a much higher death count than the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and 2021. But in the United States, COVID-19 has now killed more Americans than the Spanish flu, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Hopkins reports that the COVID-19 death count in the U.S., as of Tuesday morning, September 21, was more than 676,300 — which is higher than the estimated 675,000 U.S. deaths that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has attributed to the Spanish flu. But there is a caveat. ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos reports that "according to Dr. Graham Mooney, assistant professor of the history of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, it is likely that (the Spanish flu) figures were significantly underestimated, because of non-registration, missing records, misdiagnosis or underreporting."
The worldwide figures, meanwhile, show that as deadly as COVID-19 has been in 2020 and 2021, the Spanish flu was much deadlier. Johns Hopkins, as of September 21, reports that worldwide, more than 4.7 million people have died from the COVID-19 coronavirus — which was first reported in Wuhan, China less than two years ago in December 2019. But an estimated 50 million people worldwide died from the Spanish flu pandemic, according to CDC figures.
One pandemic that, according to historians, was even deadlier than the Spanish flu pandemic was the Black Death pandemic of the 1340s and 1350s. Historians have different views on how deadly the Black Death was; some historians estimated that it killed around 75 million people, while others estimate that the death toll was as high as 200 million. If that 200 million figure is accurate — there is a lot of debate among historians — the Black Death may have killed four times as many people as the Spanish flu.
The Black Death was especially deadly in Europe, where some historians estimate that it killed around 30% of the population. Other historians believe it killed as much as 60% of the European population.
According to Christopher McKnight Nichols, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University, it's important to think on a per-capita basis when comparing the Spanish flu and COVID-19 pandemics — as opposed to simply looking at raw numbers.
Nichols told ABC News, "The difference is that 1 in 500 Americans have died now, and about 1 in 152 died in 1918 — although our number keeps going up."
A "stark" difference between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Spanish flu pandemic, according to Nichols, is the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
The historian told ABC News, "People were desperate for treatment measures in 1918. People were desperate for a vaccine. We have effective vaccines now…. We have a really effective treatment. The thing that they most wanted in 1918 and '19, we've got. And for a lot of different reasons, we botched the response."
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