Things are pretty awful right now. Let’s not underscore that.
A global pandemic is still raging and world is in turmoil because of it. Even with multiple vaccines available, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can honestly say it’s over.
As bad as that is, it’s still important to find some silver linings. You don’t want to undermine how bad things are, but you also want to embrace whatever positives you can. Even if they don’t warrant the suffering, they can help us process the overall impact.
To that end, I want to highlight something that’s easy to overlook in the midst of a raging pandemic. This disease we’re fighting is awful. It’s killing way too many people and our efforts to stop it have been mixed, at best. However, those efforts have brought other indirect benefits.
One of them has to do with the seasonal flu. Every year, it seems, some nasty bug seems to go around in certain areas. I’ve certainly experienced it. I’ve endured the flu before and most people agree. It’s not fun. It’s an experience we can all do without.
Now, due to the efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the flu has been effectively kneecapped this season. According to some recent data from the Center for Disease Control, this has been the mildest flu season in years.
Following widespread adoption of community mitigation measures to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the percentage of U.S. respiratory specimens submitted for influenza testing that tested positive decreased from >20% to 2.3% and has remained at historically low interseasonal levels (0.2% versus 1–2%). Data from Southern Hemisphere countries also indicate little influenza activity.
Again, and it’s worth belaboring, this silver lining does not make up for all the terrible things the COVID-19 pandemic has incurred. An overall decline in flu cases hardly makes up for all the suffering we’ve endured in this pandemic.
At the very least, it shows that there’s real merit in embracing these public safety measures. There’s real benefit to regularly washing your hands, wearing a mask, and not congregating in cramped, unsanitary conditions.
It has certainly changed how I look at public health. In the past, I’ve actually been sick and gone to class or work. I tried to endure the illness, not understanding just how much it affected others around me. This pandemic has changed that.
Now, when I’m sick, I’m making damn sure I stay home. I’m also washing my hands a lot more regularly and thoroughly. I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. These are all hard lessons that we’ve all paid a terrible price to learn. At the same time, we have that much more reason to endure and overcome this awful pandemic. Beyond simply beating this dreaded disease, emerging in a world where the flu is lesson common is definitely a more appealing world overall.
In any other year, we would use this as an opportunity to wish everyone a happy New Year and to share our New Years plans. This is not just any other year. This is 2020 and it has been historically hellish for reasons that would take too long to list. Now, it’s almost over.
Now, I know the end of 2020 doesn’t mean an automatic end to everything that made it so awful. There’s still work to be done. We’re still a long way from anything resembling a better world.
If nothing else, 2020 has set the bar so laughably low for improvement that 2021 has no excuses for being at least slightly better. As jaded and broken as I’ve become over this past year, I’m choosing to be hopeful. I really want to believe that 2021 will be a better year. The effort to make it better starts tomorrow.
For now, let’s just get through this last day. We’ve almost made it, people! Just hang in there a little bit longer.
Some things really shouldn’t have to be said. They’re so obvious, both in terms of common sense and basic human decency, that nobody should have to be reminded in any capacity. If you have a functioning brain and a simple understanding of a situation, you have no excuse.
Sadly, there are some people in this world who are just a special kind of asshole.
They don’t care what makes sense or what’s generally decent. They’ll just find a way to serve themselves, even if it causes legitimate harm to others.
However, now that there are two vaccines available to end this pandemic, more assholes are being exposed in the most hypocritical way possible. Now, it should go without saying that, given the state of the pandemic, the first people who should get this treatment are the front line health care workers.
These people are the legitimate heroes of this pandemic. They need this vaccine. They deserve it. More lives will be saved because of them.
Even so, some people who are not front line health care workers are attempting to get this vaccine. Some are powerful people with powerful connections. Some are just well-connected, in general. Whatever their reason, if they’re not a front line health care worker, they’re still a special kind of asshole for cutting in line to get this vaccine.
I can’t be subtle or tactful about this.
I can’t be polite about it, either.
I’m just going to say what I feel as someone who has witnessed the damage and suffering that this pandemic has caused like so many others. It shouldn’t have to be said, but I’ll say it anyways.
If you’re a politician who uses their power and influence to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.
If you’re a rich, well-connected business type who uses their money and connection to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.
If you’re the friend or spouse of a billionaire or politician who uses that friendship to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole.
If you’re someone who downplayed the pandemic or scoffed at basic health guidelines when it began and still attempt to get the vaccine, you’re an asshole.
If you’re an anti-evolution religious zealot who encouraged congregates to ignore the advice of doctors during the pandemic and still try to get the vaccine, you’re an asshole.
If you’re a just liar, cheater, or con-artist who uses those skills to get the vaccine before a single front line health care worker, you’re an asshole of the highest order.
In essence, if you’re trying to jump ahead in the line to get this vaccine for any reason, even if you’re among those who didn’t take the pandemic seriously in the beginning, you are an asshole in the highest order. You are just one of the reasons why people lose faith in humanity and the future.
I would tell these people to knock it off, apologize, or show some basic human decency, but I have a feeling they’ll either ignore me or just make an excuse. I doubt those people would ever read this. I still think this is worth saying, if only to share that angry sentiment that many feel when they hear about people cutting in line to get this life-saving treatment.
The world is still in a precarious place right now. The pandemic isn’t over. There’s still a lot of work to be done and, as has been the case since the beginning, the front line health care workers who have been nothing short of superhuman, will bear the brunt of it. Anyone who cuts in front of them to get this treatment deserves nothing but the utmost scorn.
We will eventually emerge from this. Hopefully, there will come a point in 2021 where we can definitively say that this horrible pandemic is over. However, even after that fateful moment, let’s not forget about the assholes who did everything to help themselves when others were suffering.
They’ll still be assholes.
They’ll keep being assholes, no matter what the state of the world.
We can’t always avoid them, but we can expose them for the level asshole they are.
However, I don’t want to spend Christmas Eve lamenting on how bad this year has gone. I’ve already doneplenty of that. Instead, I want offer some insight and hope.
Yes, Christmas this year is bound to be different, but the spirit and sentiments of the season aren’t completely muted. Even a pandemic can’t stop that.
Like so many other things this year, we just have to adapt. That may mean less travel, less parties, and even less presents for those who are enduring serious economic hardship. It’s sad and disappointing, but that doesn’t have to ruin Christmas. It just means we’ll have to do things differently.
For me, personally, that involves relying heavily on video chatting and Zoom meetings to connect with family. We can’t have the usual extended get-togethers, which often start on Christmas Eve and go on days after Christmas. It also means a less elaborate Christmas dinner.
At the same time, I’m not letting it dampen my holiday spirit. I’ve already made the effort to share that spirit from afar. Last week, I took many of the presents I’d previously wrapped and mailed them out to various family members who couldn’t travel. I ended up having to send multiple large boxes, which held up a long line at the UPS store.
To those people, I apologize. I promise it was for a good cause.
I already confirmed that many of those packages arrived. I intend to be with them via Zoom as they’re opened. I also intend to do the same while I open their presents. Granted, it’s not the same as being there with them, but it’s better than nothing. We’ll still be together in the ways that matter.
It’ll still be difficult. I know some relatives would much rather get together, join the family, and share in each others’ company for the holidays. It’s just not possible this year. I keep encouraging them to make up for it next year. However, we have to get through this one first. We can make that process easier by simply making the most of what we have now.
I encourage everyone to keep that perspective in mind as they celebrate the holidays. The world will heal. This pandemic will end. Those are hopes for tomorrow.
Today, it’s Christmas Eve.
Let’s cherish what we still have before we move forward with what lies ahead.
It’s almost over. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that with each passing day.
This historically horrible year is almost over. We’re in the home stretch with the holidays approaching. A new year is almost upon us and the bar for improvement for 2021 is laughably low compared to previous years.
The reason there’s hope now is we actually have a working vaccine. Thanks to the heroic efforts of scientists, doctors, and those who volunteered to test this unproven treatment, the key to ending this pandemic is upon us.
These aren’t folk remedies or something some shady health guru is trying to pawn for a quick buck. Contrary to what anti-vaxxers may claim, these vaccines will actually protect people. As of this writing, it’s being distributed to front line care workers and vulnerable populations.
Just this past week, the first individuals received the vaccine. It started with a British woman in Coventry. It continued with an ICU nurse in New York City. CNN even captured it in a live video feed.
A critical care nurse was the first person in New York and among the first people in the United States to get a shot of the coronavirus vaccine authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Sandra Lindsay, an ICU nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York City, was administered the vaccine during a live video event at about 9:20 a.m. ET on Monday.
Dr. Michelle Chester, the corporate director of employee health services at Northwell Health, delivered the shot.
“She has a good touch, and it didn’t feel any different than taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said immediately afterward.
This isn’t just a turning point in the fight against a deadly disease. This is something we should celebrate. Moreover, I believe this is the kind of celebrating we should learn from.
I admit I’ve celebrated some less-than-important things in my life. Hell, I celebrated the day when comics started coming out digitally the same day they came out in shops. I treated that like I won the Super Bowl.
People celebrate all sorts of events that they believe to be the most important thing in the world. Whether it’s their team winning a championship or a movie grossing $2 billion at the box office, we all have a different bar for what warrants celebrating.
For just once, let’s all re-think where we raise that bar. Let’s also let this be a prime example of something that’s truly worth celebrating and praising.
Make no mistake. Creating this vaccine this quickly is a remarkable achievement. We’ve endured pandemics in the past. Some of those pandemics have killed far more people. This disease could’ve definitely killed more. If we didn’t have this vaccine, or even if we had to wait a year to get it, thousands more would’ve died.
Now, going into 2021, countless lives will be saved because of this. It’s a testament to the power of science, hard work, and human ingenuity. It’s as heroic as we can be without the aid of superpowers or magic wands. As someone who loves superhero media, I say that’s a beautiful thing indeed. So, let’s all take a moment to appreciate and celebrate this achievement. I also fully intend to get this vaccine, once it’s available. When that day comes, I’ll gladly share that moment and encourage others to do the same.
The holidays are here and we should not let the general awfulness of 2020 prevent us from celebrating. I just want to put that out there because I feel like it needs to be said. I understand we can’t celebrate the holidays like we have in previous years due to a once-in-a-century pandemic, but we should still celebrate.
If nothing else, we should celebrate having made it through this year. Regardless of your religious affiliation or traditions, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
I love Christmas and the holidays. I fully intend to celebrate in my own festive way with friends and family. I already have my Christmas tree up and I’ve had it up since the first week of November. However, this year may require certain adjustments from my usual holiday activities, but I’m willing to do that for the spirit of the season.
As I and many others do so, I think this is a good time to re-evaluate certain holiday taboos. I’m not referring to any of those associated with religion. There’s a time and a place to talk about that exceedingly touchy issue. This is not one of them.
This particular taboo has to do with gift-giving, which happens to be the holiday tradition I take most seriously. Ask any member of my family, from my parents to my siblings to even my former roommates, and they’ll say the same thing. I go the extra mile when it comes to Christmas presents.
I’ll spend more money than I should.
I’ll buy more gifts than I should.
I’ll put in extra time, thought, and effort.
I’ll often pester people in asking them what they want, making a point to tell me before Thanksgiving.
Getting Christmas gifts for my loved ones is a big deal to me. I take pride in my ability to go the extra mile and make my family feel extra loved during the holidays. It brings me a special kind of joy.
As a result of that approach to holiday gift giving, I tend to avoid the kinds of low-effort gifts that send the wrong message. That usually means I try not to get gift cards or cash for someone. To me, that’s just too impersonal. It implies I didn’t make the effort to show how much I love and care for the person I’m giving this gift to.
I’m not alone in that feeling. Gifting gift cards does have a bit of a taboo to it, even as more and more people shop online. If you were to give your lover a gift card for your anniversary, chances are they’ll be somewhat disappointed. It almost seems like a cop-out, as though you don’t trust yourself to get a meaningful gift for someone.
I understand that sentiment to some extent, but I also think that taboo is waning somewhat. After a year like 2020, when millions of people were stuck in lockdowns for weeks on end, I think it’s waning even faster. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing and we should use this holiday season as an opportunity.
For many people, including myself, it’s just not going to be possible to travel for the holiday. The big holiday gatherings that so many of us treasure just can’t be done safely during a global pandemic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exchange gifts. We just have to be smart about it and gift cards could help.
These days, gift cards are a lot more useful than the traditional gift certificates of the past. I’m old enough to remember how limited they were. Before the days of Amazon, getting a gift certificate usually meant getting something for a specific store. You could only use it at that store and it usually had an expiration date.
In some instances, it worked out. If you knew someone went to a place like Best Buy or Wal-Mart all the time, a gift certificate could certainly be useful. It was still considered very impersonal. It wasn’t the kind of gift you gave someone for Christmas. It was usually a birthday gift and even then, it was often a gift of last resort.
Now, in an era where you can buy pretty much anything online, the time is right to flip the script. If you know someone has an Amazon account that they frequently use, then why should a $50 Amazon gift card be taboo? Why should it be a gift of last resort that requires an excuse?
Love them or hate them, you can buy a lot from Amazon with a $50 gift card. You could buy a movie you don’t have, both digital or Blu-ray. You could buy a video game, although not the latest releases. You could buy multiple books and be certain they’re books you want to read and haven’t read already.
From a practical standpoint, that gift card is very useful and there’s a near-certain chance it’ll get used. You can’t always say that about a traditional gift. I’ve gotten people gifts that I was certain they’d use frequently, but they never made it out of the box. That’s the chance you take with any gift exchange.
It’s still a great feeling when you get someone that perfect gift. I can attest to the joy that comes with that accomplishment. I also don’t deny that the perfect gift is not always possible. I’ve got plenty of relatives and family members who are hard to shop for and often tell me they really don’t need anything from me.
However, I know that even those hard-to-shop-for relatives would get use out of an Amazon gift card. That may not make it the perfect gift, but it would still be incredibly useful and sometimes that’s the most you can hope for.
In a year like this, when traveling and shopping have been incredibly restricted by the pandemic, I think a simple Amazon gift card should be acceptable. Even if you don’t like giving or receiving gift cards, this is the year when we should all be willing to make an exception.
That doesn’t mean it has to be impersonal. You can still make giving someone a gift card feel festive.
One year, I got an $50 Amazon gift card for a relative. However, I didn’t just stick it in an envelope or bag. I actually put it in a standard 14 by 9.5 box and wrapped it in shiny wrapping paper. To hide the contents, I even put some washers inside to make it heavier. The relative loved it and I know they used that gift card.
You could either do that or find some other festive way to present it. You don’t have to be overly elaborate with wrapping paper or packaging. You just have to show a little extra effort, which will go a long way towards making a gift card feeling less impersonal.
In the future, long after this pandemic has passed, we may get to a point where that kind of gift-giving is no longer taboo. It may even be the norm, if only to ensure that your loved ones get something useful on the holidays.
There will always be a place for more personal gift-giving. I don’t doubt that. However, I think certain practices and taboos need tweaking. We already live in a new era where shopping from home has never been easier. Let’s use that as a way to supplement our holiday spirits moving forward. After a year like 2020, we’ll need it.
As someone who regularly consumes superhero media of all kinds, I try to appreciate the real heroes in the real world who regularly save countless lives. Most carry themselves without superpowers, flashy costumes, or charisma on par with Robert Downy Jr. or Christopher Reeves. They just do the work that needs doing to help people who will never know their name.
A couple years ago, I made a tribute to Dr. Norman Borlaug, the famed agricultural scientist who helped usher in an agricultural revolution. This man, who most have never heard of, has saved millions of lives by helping the world produce more food, reduce famine, and combat world hunger. The amount of good this man has done for the world cannot be overstated.
In that same spirit, I’d like to highlight another individual who I doubt most people have heard of. He’s another doctor who, through his work, has helped save millions of lives, many of them children. It’s because of this man that millions of children born today don’t become ill with diseases that had ravaged humanity for generations.
Of those vaccines, 8 are still routinely recommended by doctors today. They combat terrible diseases like measles, mumps, Hepatitis, and chicken pox.
It’s a level of productivity that is unparalleled today. As a result of these vaccines, approximately 8 million lives are saved every year. Even though he died in 2005, he continues to save lives with each passing year through his work. Like Dr. Borlaug, his heroism only compounds with time. Even Tony Stark can’t boast that.
Most people alive today don’t realize just how bad it was before these vaccines were developed. Many diseases, some of which you’ve probably never heard of, were rampant. Before Dr. Hilleman helped develop the vaccine, measles alone infected between 3 and 4 million people every year in the United states, killing at between 400 and 500 at a time.
Children and the elderly were especially vulnerable. It was once just a fact of life that these diseases would come around and kill a sizable number of children. It was as unavoidable as bad weather.
Take a moment to imagine life in those conditions. One day, you or your children would just get sick and there was nothing you could do to prevent it. That was life before these remarkable advances came along.
That’s why when people say that nothing has saved more lives than vaccines, they’re not peddling propaganda. They’re just sharing the results of basic math. It’s because of men like Dr. Maurice Hilleman that these numbers are what they are. However, his name is not well-known, even in a field that has become more prominent.
Most people know who Edward Jenner is and appreciate how many lives he saved by combating Smallpox.
Most people know who Jonas Salk is and appreciate how many people he helped by developing a polio vaccine.
Now, what these men did was remarkable. They certainly deserve the praise and admiration they receive for developing their respective vaccines. However, Dr. Maurice Hilleman still deserves to be in that same echelon. For the number of vaccines he helped develop and the legacy he left, he certainly put in the work and accomplished a great deal.
The diseases Dr. Hilleman battled might not have been as high-profile as Smallpox or polio, but they were every bit as damaging. That makes it all the more frustrating to see efforts like the anti-vaxx movement take hold, which has led to resurgences of diseases like measles in certain communities. That is not the direction we should be going right now.
In the midst of a historic pandemic, the importance of medical science and those who work in it has never been more critical. This might be the best possible time to acknowledge the work of men like Dr. Hilleman. Even after this pandemic has passed, we should all appreciate work like his even more.
None of us have superpowers like Spider-Man or Superman.
Most of us will never be as rich, smart, or resourceful as Iron Man or Batman.
Dr. Hilleman had none of this. Just like Dr. Borlaug, he came from a poor family. At one point, he didn’t have enough money for college. He still persevered and he still managed to do the work that went onto save millions of lives. It might not be a hero’s story on par with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s still a special kind of heroism.
So, on this day as we anxiously wait for this pandemic to end, take a moment to appreciate the work of Dr. Maurice Hilleman. It’s because of him that such pandemics are so rare. It’s also because of him that this current pandemic won’t take nearly as many lives as it could’ve.
If you did it right, you’re still digesting dinner and desert. I sure am.
However, as fun as it is to enjoy food, family, and football on Thanksgiving, Black Friday has become an extension of sorts for the holiday. For some people, it invites even bolder traditions than Thanksgiving. I’ve known people who will immediately camp outside of major stories almost immediately after Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m not one of them. I prefer enjoying Black Friday shopping on Black Friday. I always have. It’s not that I’m a sucker for sales and excessive consumerism. I just genuinely enjoy the Black Friday shopping experience, from the crowds to the holiday decorations to the various festivities.
I know that makes me weird in the eyes of some. I understand that. Black Friday is one of those events that you either love or hate. You love it because it’s the best shopping time of the season. You hate it because it’s the pinnacle of rampant consumerism. I can appreciate both positions. I still enjoy it.
That’s why this year is so difficult. This is the first year where I won’t partake in any Black Friday shopping sprees of any kind. Thanks to a global pandemic and a massive spike in cases over the past few weeks, pretty much any hope of salvaging this event, even in part, is gone.
For some, it’s no great loss. Not being able to go on a shopping spree in crowded stores probably doesn’t mean much to a lot of people. It means a lot to me.
It’s not just for the shopping part. Like many others, I do most of my Christmas shopping online. I finish nearly 90 percent of my holiday shopping before Black Friday. To me, just getting the gifts I want for my family isn’t the point anymore.
It’s the experience I’ve come to appreciate. That experience is what matters to me. It’s an experience that comes partially from my mother’s fondness of shopping.
She has told me on multiple occasions that her favorite activity with me, when I was a baby, was going shopping at the malls. I feel like I inherited that fondness for the experience from her. It’s one I even shared with my ex-girlfriend years ago. Some of our most memorable moments came while shopping on Black Friday.
Now, it’s just not possible to have any of those moments in a year like this.
It’s not surprising, given the current state of affairs, but it’s still disappointing. It’s yet another indicator that 2020 is a year in which we’ve lost so much. Between major movie releases, major sporting events, and beloved celebrities, the losses just keep accumulating. This is just the latest.
I don’t doubt it’ll come back at some point. Depending on how rapidly we recover from this pandemic, I have a feeling people will be eager to make up for lost experiences next year. I know I will.
Until then, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the past experiences I’ve enjoyed with Black Friday shopping. The experience of just going to malls, being around crowds, and taking part in holiday festivities are some of my favorite aspects of this time of year. I won’t let 2020 ruin my holidays, but I intend to appreciate future Black Fridays even more.
Let’s not lie to ourselves. Thanksgiving is going to be very different this year. Pretty much everything has had to be different this year, thanks to a once-in-a-century pandemic. There’s just no way around it. All we can do is adapt and endure.
For some, that means Thanksgiving is not going to be quite as festive. If you enjoy large family gatherings, hanging out near malls for Black Friday sales, or traveling extensively to meet up with relatives, then your Thanksgiving spirit is going to be tempered this year, by default. That’s just the way it is in 2020.
I’m already bracing myself. I’m still getting together with family, but it’s going to be on a much smaller scale than usual. Given how big my family is and how much they love get-togethers, that’s going to make it rough. We’re still going to try and make it work. Thankfully, most of us have already learned to have large gatherings through Zoom and FaceTime.
However, I’d rather not dwell on what this Thanksgiving will lack. In the interest of keeping things balanced, I’d like to do my part to help us endure these pandemic-hampered holidays.
To that end, I’d like to share a video from the channel, Best Posts & Comments. It’s a simple complication of Reddit posts that recounted infamous incidents that occurred on Thanksgiving.
I must offer a clear warning, though. Some of these incidents are quite cringy. Trust me. You’ll know it when you hear it. Cringe or not, I hope it helps you feel a bit better about Thanksgiving this year. Enjoy!
Sometimes, it takes a terrible global crisis to spurn huge leaps in technology. World War II was arguably the greatest crisis of the modern era, but it helps advance some of the greatest technological leaps in history. We can argue whether those advances were worth all the death and destruction, but there’s no denying that our world wouldn’t be the same without them.
The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t on the same level as World War II, but it is, by most measures, the greatest crisis the world has faced in the past 50 years. It hasn’t just caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and immeasurable amounts of suffering. It has completely disrupted this big, interconnected world that we’ve come to depend on.
We’ve all lost something in this pandemic. Beyond the loved ones who have perished, our entire sense of security and hope has been shattered. We now realize just how vulnerable we were and how inevitable this was. As bad as it is, there is some good coming out of it.
Usually, a crisis like this helps break down the barriers that divided us and hindered progress, technological or otherwise. Never before has the world been more united or engaged in a singular effort. Before 2020, we probably didn’t know much about vaccines or vaccine research. We just knew that Jenny McCarthy tried to be relevant again by protesting them.
Then, we got an even greater glimmer of hope from the other vaccine front-runner by Moderna. Not only is their vaccine in the final phase of testing, like Pfizer. It’s even more effective and promises to be easier to store and distribute.
The Moderna vaccine is 94.5% effective against coronavirus, according to early data released Monday by the company, making it the second vaccine in the United States to have a stunningly high success rate.
“These are obviously very exciting results,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor. “It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.”
Moderna heard its results on a call Sunday afternoon with members of the Data Safety and Monitoring Board, an independent panel analyzing Moderna’s clinical trial data.
This is objectively great news in a year when we’ve had precious little of it. These two vaccines may very well be the one-two punch we need to end the COVID-19 pandemic and return to some semblance of normalcy. I would still like to go to a movie theater or baseball game at some point in 2021. These vaccines may make that possible.
However, I’d like to take a moment to speculate beyond this terrible pandemic that has uprooted so many lives. I know that’s not easy to do when the crisis is still very relevant and inflicting plenty of suffering. I still think it’s worth attempting, if only to imagine the better world that emerges from this mess.
That’s because both these vaccines aren’t like your typical flu shots. For one, flu shots aren’t nearly as effective as what Pfizer and Moderna reported. According to the CDC, you’re average flu shot is between 40 and 60 percent effective. That’s still important because the flu can be deadly. Anything you do to reduce it can only further public health, in general.
The problem is that vaccines are notoriously hard to develop. They take a long time to test and an even longer time to approve. Until this pandemic, there just wasn’t much incentive to improve on that process. Now, after these past 8 months, the incentive couldn’t have been greater.
That’s what sped up the development of mRNA vaccines, the technology behind both Pfizer and Moderna. It was reported on as far back as 2018. While this technology isn’t completely new, it has never been developed beyond a certain point. There just wasn’t any incentive to do so. A global crisis changed that.
Very simply, an mRNA vaccine does one better on traditional vaccines by using RNA to develop immunity. It’s not as easy as it sounds. To develop that immunity, it has encode itself with just the right antigen. That way, the antibodies it creates can attack the desired pathogen.
In the case of COVID-19, the mRNA vaccine attacks the distinct spike protein the virus uses to attach to host cells. It’s like a missile targeting a specific individual in a large crowd by locking onto the distinct hat they wear.
This approach has the potential to be much more effective at generating immunity to a particular disease. Instead of trying to mimic a virus, it just gives the immune system the necessary software it needs to do the work. It could potentially revolutionize the way we treat and prevent diseases.
For years, certain viruses like the flu and HIV have confounded efforts to develop a vaccine. Beyond the problems I listed earlier with regards to testing, the difficulty of creating a particular immune response to a particular antigen is very difficult. These viruses mutate and change all the time. With COVID, vaccines do have an advantage because they have a distinct feature.
The challenge for future vaccines against future pandemics is quickly uncovering a particular antigen that the mRNA can be coded for. In theory, all you would have to do is find the one key antigen that’s common to every strain of the virus. While viruses like the flu are notoriously diverse, they can only change so much.
It’s akin to trying to identify an army of spies in a large crowd. They may all look different on the outside, but if they all have the same socks, then that’s what you code for. With some refinements, an mRNA vaccine can stop a pandemic in its tracks before it ever gets beyond a certain point.
That assumes we’ll continue to refine this technology after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed. I certainly hope that’s the case. This year has traumatized entire generations with how much pain and suffering it has inflicted. I sincerely hope that gives plenty of motivation to develop technology like this. That way, we never have to endure a disruption like this again.
To all those who helped develop this technology and these two vaccines, I hope you appreciate the impact you’ll make with this technology. The number of lives they could save is incalculable. Future generations may not remember your names, but they will be forever grateful for this wondrous gift you’ve given them.