Congratulations! You survived 2021!
If you’re reading this blogpost, one thing is for sure, you survived 2021! This is an achievement in and of itself, given that 3,503,696 people died due to COVID-19 in 2021. When I was writing my blogpost a year ago to commemorate the end of 2020, I was full of hope and positivity, seeing the rapid development and distribution of safe and effective vaccines. While this was certainly a momentous and revolutionary achievement, unfortunately my hopes for the end of the pandemic are yet to be fulfilled. Despite the availability of vaccines in highly developed countries, more people died of COVID-19 in 2021 than in 2020, partly due to widespread, politicized and commercialized vaccine hesitancy. Despite the urging of WHO and many others, COVID-19 vaccines are yet to reach billions of people in developing countries, especially in Africa. All of these factors allowed the SARS-CoV-2 virus to develop and mutate in hundreds of millions of people, resulting in the emergence of more dangerous and transmissible variants. During the summer of 2021, the Delta variant replaced previous variants, transmitting faster and making people more sick, and right now we’re in the throws of a massive wave of disease caused by the Omicron variant, which is as transmissible as measles. People are fed up with public health interventions, including social distancing, masks and vaccine boosters, and just want to live their life „normally”, exactly like before the COVID-19 pandemic. During this last year, we certainly learned a lot more about pandemics, especially the importance of human behavior and how little we know about what drives that. I personally learned a lot about my own limits and the need to respect them, as well as the limits of others, including when they make decisions I disagree with, and to be grateful for everyone’s best efforts from their perspective.
In addition to surviving, we spent this last year trying to make the best of our time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, I was able to transition back to teaching in person (and hybrid) this Fall after spending the first half of 2021 teaching remotely from home. I also worked with a group of undergraduate students (Biology at Eastern Washington University, and Computer Science at Whitworth) to develop a spatially-explicit, individual-based model of respiratory disease transmission within a facility (COVID-ADAPT). Here at Bugbitten, the editors and guest authors, led by our steadfast leader, Hilary Hurd, kept going, and provided our readers with 60 blogposts on a wide range of topics. The blogposts this year focused primarily on either parasitic worms or mosquito-borne diseases, such as Hilary’s post on the successes of guine worm eradication early in the year, which was our absolute most viewed post. Many of our posts on mosquito-borne diseases focused on malaria, where we celebrated successful malaria vaccine trials and the implementation of Wolbachia to control dengue. More generally, we reported on the success of deworming to eliminate soil-transmitted helminths as part of reaching the 2030 Neglected Tropical Diseases goals, and the launch of the new road map from WHO to achieve those goals. Despite the ongoing pandemic, relatively few of our posts have focused on COVID-19. However, one of those was among our most viewed blog posts by Daniel Parsons on the hypothesis that prior malaria infection might provide protective immunity against COVID-19, as a potential explanation for lower case numbers in Africa.
As we roll into 2022, we all hope for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, or at least a transition towards endemicity with lower levels of risk and disruptions. One thing that I learned during these two years is to not even try to predict the situation for more than few weeks at a time. This is particularly true in light of the fact of SARS-CoV-2 becoming a zoonotic pathogen, having been found in large proportions of ungulates in the United States, as reported by Hilary Hurd here previously. Whatever it will be, we promise to do our best to keep going in 2022, and provide you with relevant and interesting information on the many successes and challenges regarding parasitic and vector-borne diseases.
Thank you to my fellow editors for their contributions, to Hilary for keeping us organized, and to the many staff members, especially Srimathy and Roberto for helping us keep Bugbitten going! Finally, I’d like to thank you, our readers, for your interest and attention to our posts! There would not be a reason to continue doing this without you!
Stay safe and healthy, and see you in the New Year!