Local professor sees similarities between past and present pandemics

SPOKANE, Wash. — The world has been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the past year and a half, but there have been others to have come before it, and things have played out much the same way.

The more things change, the more they stay they same.

This COVID-19 pandemic has challenged many of us to adapt to the current problems, and now with the vaccine rollout, there has been a great deal of hesitancy. But, history tells us it’s always been this way.

“It’s actually pretty common among humans to not want to be told what to do with your body,” said Whitworth Assistant Professor Dr. Kari Nixon, “Particularly in response to newish scientific evidence and things we can’t see.”

Whether it be the 1918 Influenza pandemic or today’s COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Nixon says people have had the same general responses and even the same mistakes. She’s studied the topic extensively — and it’s the subject of her new book.

Take mask wearing for example, Dr. Nixon says. 100 years ago during the Spanish flu, there’s evidence people resisted wearing masks. Another analogue to early 2020: supply chain issues.

“They didn’t have masks,” said Nixon. “So your would see these, more than resistance in the newspapers, what I see is people asking women to get together and sew all the masks they can possibly sew for the doctor and the nurses.”

Nixon also says vaccines have been met with hesitancy throughout the centuries. During the 18th century it involved taking pus out of a wound of a patient, cutting a healthy person’s arms open, and rubbing the pus into the body. She adds it’s human instinct to not want our body to be invaded by a foreign substance.

“Although the toxins at the time were more like pathogenic particles in the pus, now we fear chemical toxins, but it’s just a shift in the type of thing we’re worrying about,” said Nixon.

When it came to the Polio vaccine, however, Dr. Nixon says the feeling was much different and people “couldn’t get it fast enough,” especially because it impacted so many children.

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