We have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and its disruptions to our lives, for a year. And all the news reports, the dire warnings, and the messages of doom and gloom reinforce a feeling of despair as we face yet another week of virtual school, along with time away from the activities and the people we love. We have hit a collective pandemic wall of hopelessness. It is easy to see why: January saw the most deaths and most hospitalizations of any month so far in the pandemic, and public discussion about the vaccines remains tempered by warnings not to change your behavior even after vaccination.
But on this beautiful snowy day, at the beginning of a new month, let me provide an alternative perspective.
There have been numerous pandemics and plagues throughout history. All have ended. At great cost, to be sure, but the truth is: Pandemics end. And our advantage over all those prior pandemics is an unprecedented understanding of science and technology. The mobilization of the scientific community in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been inspiring: from the speed at which the SARS CoV-2 genome was sequenced, to the development of the vaccines, to isolating and identifying the circulating variants, our ability to respond to this human catastrophe is better than at any point in history.
These vaccines are amongst the best vaccines we have ever developed. All of the vaccine candidates have significantly reduced hospitalizations and virtually eliminated deaths due to COVID-19. Although there are some differences between the vaccine options, they are all extraordinarily effective, and they are all extraordinarily safe. The FDA authorization process proceeded faster than would be typical, but this was not a result of lowered safety criteria. Ongoing close monitoring of all those who have participated in trials has not shown any significant concerns that were missed. And although the virus, like others, is evolving, all signs indicate the vaccines provide some protection against the known variants, and boosters to optimize that protection are already in development. And at least for Moderna and Pfizer, the beauty of mRNA vaccination technology is that it allows for easier ongoing vaccine modification in response to variants compared to other vaccine technologies. This is all great news!
So why the lukewarm messaging? I suspect much of the public health messaging is a reaction to the politicization of masks and other public health measures and rampant misinformation online. I understand the impulse. Public health experts do not want those who get their vaccines to depart immediately for tropical vacations, throw huge parties, or get together with vulnerable family members until we achieve herd immunity and a larger percentage of our population has received the protection afforded by the vaccine.
But if history tells us one thing, it is this: this pandemic, like the others, will end. Herd immunity will develop, and with these vaccines, we have every reason to hope that it will come more quickly than during prior pandemics. And life will get back to some semblance of normalcy.
So I implore you. Get the vaccine when it becomes available (whichever type comes your way). Do not lose your momentum in the home stretch. You have played the “social distancing, masking, virtual-everything” game for a year. Stay home for now, for a few more months, until we are able to vaccinate more people. Don’t allow yourself or your loved ones to become one of the statistics in these final few months, to become casualties in the final months of a war.
Focus instead on the positives: all of the things you will be able to do when (not if) this ends.
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