Let’s appreciate how extraordinary the vaccines are

It’s not hard to paint a bleak picture of America’s battle with COVID-19.

Cases are surging around the country, including in areas that suffered badly during the first wave. Nor is it a mere artifact of better testing; sewage data from Massachusetts, for example, indicates that the actual prevalence of the virus is comparable to where it was in the worst days of April, and still rising. Nationally, deaths have surpassed a quarter of a million, which is likely a significant underestimate. Hospitals are being stressed to the breaking point, and since the current wave is truly national in scope, there’s no way for volunteers to bolster hard-hit areas as so many health care workers from across America did for New York back in the spring.

But since the beginning of the pandemic, I’ve never been more optimistic. The reason is the steady tide of substantial good news on the vaccine front. First Pfizer’s vaccine proved 90 percent effective — vastly exceeding the minimum level of 50 percent to be worth deploying. Then Moderna announced a vaccine of their own that was even more effective and that didn’t require ultra-refrigeration to store. Moreover, these are not the only vaccines in the pipeline; though many won’t pan out, the odds are extremely good that we will have at least a few workable options in early 2021. And the latest evidence suggests that immunity will generally be lasting.

That’s the first true sign of a light at the end since we entered this viral tunnel, and it is far brighter and closer than we had any reason to expect. We should stop for a moment to recognize how extraordinary an achievement this truly is.

  The vaccine breakthrough

The normal timeline for vaccine development, after all, is measured in years, not months. Nor is this just a consequence of bureaucratic red tape or an abundance of caution about safety; the initial research phase for vaccines often leads down blind alleys. There were numerous reasons to worry that we might never get a vaccine for COVID-19: it was novel virus, in a class known for rapid mutation and rapidly-declining immunity in the infected, and for which vaccines had never been developed before.

So we should be ecstatic that we’ve beaten the odds. Through a combination of hard work, brilliant science, sensible policymaking, and plain old good luck, we’re in a position to be debating when, not whether, the pandemic is going to end. We should be re-evaluating sharply upward our overall sense of the capabilities and potential of our pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Frankly, if people want to make comparisons to the Manhattan Project and the Moon Landing, they shouldn’t be deterred.

But they might be. Indeed, there’s been a distinct tone of pushback from some quarters — an almost peevish unwillingness to celebrate the good news.

Part of that pushback involves legitimate warnings that we mustn’t let down our guard. A vaccine isn’t a cure, and plenty …read more

Source:: The Week – Science


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