Tag Archives: Pandemic

Finding Love During A Pandemic: A Love Story To Lift Your Spirits

I’m a long-time romance fan. I hope I’ve made that abundantly clear by now. I’m also still striving to become a romance writer. Between the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told, the ideas are there, as well as the effort. This passion of mine has not changed, despite the deeply demoralizing impact of 2020.

I know things got quite bleak last year. I don’t deny all that bleakness got to me. There really was no guide to how to deal with a once-in-a-century pandemic. Once things started getting locked down and people I knew fell ill, it really hit me hard. This was bad. This was historically bad. Naturally, it seriously undermined my ability to enjoy romance.

Romance is about connection, hope, and intimacy. The events of the pandemic were the complete antithesis of all of that. It was not easy to navigate, to say the least. That’s coming from someone who was lucky enough to not get it.

However, now that vaccines are rolling out and I recently got mine, I find myself emerging from the soul-crushing feelings that plagued me last year. It has also inspired me to recapture my love of romance, both real and fictional.

To that end, I’d like to share a real life love story that captured all the right feels for romantics and non-romantics alike. On top of that, it’s a love story that played out during the worst parts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s quite possibly the least romantic setting imaginable, but love still found a way.

This story comes courtesy of NJ.com and involves an elderly couple who’d known each other for years, but found love during the worst possible times. Check out the story for yourself. If it doesn’t warm your hardened heart, then I question your humanity.

NJ.com: N.J. sweethearts found love in their 90s — right at the start of the pandemic

This is a story on how it is never too late to find love, and how even the worst of times can serve as the catalyst.

Bill Biega is 98. Iris Ivers is 91.

Their longtime friendship was blossoming into romance by March 2020. That’s when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a stay-at-home order at the Applewood continuing care retirement community in Freehold, where they resided in separate apartments.

Bill and Iris quickly realized they couldn’t stay apart, resulting in an awkward encounter more befitting a college dorm.

“A security guard caught me sneaking back into my apartment,” explained Bill Biega, who will turn 99 in July.

The guard told him that everyone on the floor knew what was going on and gave the furtive couple a choice: Move in together, or stay apart indefinitely.

Iris packed up her belongings and joined Bill in his apartment the next day.

Just over a year later, both are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The stay-at-home order has been lifted but Bill and Iris are still living together, a choice prompted by a pandemic that neither could have imagined. A ray of light, amid so much loss.

Iris described Bill’s one-bedroom apartment as “cozy for two.”

“I can’t imagine us not being together, as long as we can be. We’re also realistic, and we know that we’re not getting any younger,” Iris said.

I’ll say it again. Love is a beautiful thing. It’s also powerful. Even the worst pandemic in a century can’t stop it. At a time when we’re all starting to emerge from this year-long nightmare, we need stories like this. We need to be reminded that love is real and people can find it, even during the worst situations.

Let’s take comfort in that as we build a new normal.

To Bill and Iris, thank you for sharing this story. We all needed it.

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Filed under Current Events, real stories, romance, Uplifting Stories

Why I’m (Still) Hesitating To Make Plans For The Summer Of 2021

This is usually the time of year when I celebrate the end of winter. For months, I’ve dealt with cold days, long nights, and a frustrating inability to comfortably wear flip-flops when walking around my neighborhood. At this point, I’m ready for warm weather. I’m downright eager for it.

However, this is not a usual year. I still remember vividly how, around this time last year, I was making ambitious plans for the summer. I knew where I wanted to go, who I wanted to visit, and what I wanted to do during the hottest days of summer. This is fairly typical for me.

Then, the pandemic hit and I don’t think I need to remind everyone of how that messed up my plans.

Needless to say, a lot of plans in 2020 got messed up. Plenty of plans in 2021 have been disrupted as well. However, there is legitimate hope that we are turning the tide against this pandemic. We have multiple vaccines being implemented all over the world and more are likely to arrive in the coming months.

The end of this pandemic is in sight. I’m trying to take comfort in that. I really am.

After last year, though, I just can’t bring myself to be that optimistic. I had my hopes and spirit crushed repeatedly last year. I missed out on opportunities and big family events that still break my heart to this day. I can never get those moments back.

I still want to try to create new moments this year, but a lot has to go right for that to happen and after last year, I’m not ready to make such lofty assumptions. The less-than-efficient vaccination efforts have already done plenty to disappoint.

Even so, the trend lines for the pandemic are going in the right direction, for the most part. We can say with a straight face that the worst is behind us. That doesn’t mean the end will come as soon as we want.

Then, there’s the matter of new variants to the virus. That, more than anything, has me concerned about making summer plans. If just one of those variants proves to be a problem, then everything would be set back considerably. We might not be back at square one, but we would be pretty damn close.

So far, it does appear that the vaccines are effective against these new variants. The key term there is “so far.” If we learned anything last year, it’s that things can change very quickly and go horribly wrong in the span of a day.

I don’t want that to happen.

I hope it doesn’t happen.

It may still happen and a part of me can’t help but brace for that.

I still want to make plans for this summer. I want to go to the beach, go to the movies, visit friends and family, go to a baseball game, and enjoy a family barbecue at some point. Even if I can’t do everything I hope to do, I’d like to be able to do some of it.

I hope the world is healed enough by then to make that possible.

I hope everyone else gets a chance to make summer plans as well. We’ll just have to wait and see, once again hoping for the best while bracing for the worst.

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It’s Official: After Watching “Godzilla Vs. Kong” My Movie Watching Experience Has Changed

Sometimes, an experience you think is life-changing just turns out to be a fluke. You have one remarkable experience and you think it’s the start of a trend. However, it just turns out to be one experience and that’s it. Nothing ultimately changes.

I’ve had more than a few of those in my life. I thought playing “Final Fantasy X” would make me a final fantasy for life after the experience that game gave me. That turned out to be a one-time thing. It’s not out of disappointment. That’s just how things played out.

For that same reason, I wasn’t entirely sure if the experience I had watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was one of those one-time experiences. Last week, I wrote about how it may have changed how I watched new movies. I did so knowing that this was a unique movie fraught with unique circumstances. I didn’t know if it was the start of something more.

To find out, I used this past weekend as a secondary test, of sorts. I knew “Godzilla Vs. Kong” was coming out on HBO Max, just like “Justice League.” I made it a point to approach that movie the same way I approached “Justice League.” By that, I mean I turned my living room into a make-shift movie theater to maximize the experience.

I ordered some pizza.

I got a six-pack of beer.

I closed the blinds, dimmed the lights, and prepared my couch accordingly.

Now, I need to disclose that “Godzilla Vs. Kong” was not a movie I was particularly excited about. Compared to Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” it’s the kind of movie I wouldn’t see in theaters on opening night. I’d usually wait a couple weeks until the price of a ticket came down and I could pick my own seat.

It still had all the makings of the kind of movie best enjoyed in theaters. It’s a big-time monster movie full of spectacle and explosions. That’s how it’s billed and, without getting too heavily into spoilers, I can confirm that “Godzilla Vs. Kong” delivers that spectacle in abundance.

As a result, I enjoyed it. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as “Justice League,” but I still enjoyed the experience. Beyond the enjoyment, though, I confirmed something else. That experience I had with “Justice League” was not a fluke.

I can now say with relative confidence that my approach to consuming movies has changed. This experience of me turning my living room into my own personal movie theater is something I really enjoy. It’s something I want to make part of my movie-consuming experience.

By that, I don’t mean I’ll never set foot in a movie theater again. I still have every intention of doing that relatively soon, especially after I get a COVID-19 vaccine. I just don’t think I’ll ever do it as often as I once did.

It helps that “Godzilla Vs. Kong” came out on HBO Max. Last year, the powers that be decided they would release their new movies in both the theaters and on HBO Max. It’s a decision that upset quite a few people and organizations, but in terms of the bigger picture for the industry, it’s a real game changer.

Like Netflix joining the fray when Blockbuster was at its zenith, HBO Max may very well change how movies are consumed. Other studios are starting to buy in as well. Recently, Disney announced it would do a similar release with “Black Widow.” However, their release would be different in that streaming it from home will cost extra.

It’s a different approach, but one that’s following the same trend. Now, consumers have a choice in how hey consume new movies. They can either go to a movie theater or try to create their own experience at home. It’s a choice that probably wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for the pandemic that nearly destroyed the whole industry.

Be that as it may, I welcome that choice. Personally, I think the industry needs this to happen. Movie theaters and movie studios alike can’t keep clinging to a model that began before the creation of streaming media, 4K televisions, and Grubhub. At some point, they have to adapt to changing consumer habits. Now, they can’t avoid it.

I’ve already made some plans for how I’ll consume movies this summer. Even if all restrictions are lifted and everything goes back to normal, relatively speaking, I don’t think I’ll revert to my pre-pandemic approach to movies. I’ll start weighing my options.

For a movie like “Mortal Kombat” or “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” I’ll probably watch them at home on HBO Max. If I happen to get a date, I’ll probably take her to the theater. Since I can’t assume that’ll happen, my default will be using HBO Max.

With “Black Widow,” I’m a bit less certain. For now, I’m leaning towards seeing that in theaters. It’s not because of the experience. It’s more a matter of cost. If I want to watch that movie at home like I did with “Justice League,” I’ll have to pay extra. Now, for a movie I really want to see, I’m willing to do that. However, I have my limits.

I think $30 just to stream the movie from home is a bit excessive. It amounts to more than I would spend on a ticket and snacks at a movie theater. Even if the price was just $20, I’d still probably see it in theaters. Like many Marvel fans, I’ve been anxious to see this movie for over a year and I want to support it. If that means paying extra at a theater, I’ll do that.

Then again, if I could stream it for free on Disney+ the same way I streamed “WandaVision,” then I might have second thoughts. Given that I’m a lifelong Marvel fan, I might still go to the theater, just to show my support for the franchise. Since that’s not an option, I just don’t know.

For now, those are my plans and they’re always subject to change. I just know that, moving forward, my approach to experiencing new movies is very different. I suspect others are going through something similar. Even after this pandemic has passed, I expect certain movie-going habits to change permanently.

What will this mean for the industry, as a whole?

That, I don’t know. All I know now is that what happened last weekend with “Justice League” was not a fluke and “Godzilla Vs. Kong” proved it. Now, I’m contemplating how I’ll continue adapting my movie-watching experience. For that, I may need to invest in a bigger TV. In the meantime, I’d like to know what everyone else thinks. What has been your experience thus far with respect to consuming movies? Has it changed due to the pandemic? Do you expect it to change even more? Let me know in the comments.

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Filed under Current Events, Jack Fisher's Insights, movies, television

How Watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” (May Have) Changed How I Watch Movies

Throughout the pandemic-fueled horrors of 2020, I speculated on multiple occasions how movie theaters may never fully recover. I don’t doubt for a second the movie industry, as a whole, will adapt to changing markets and trends. However, the movie-going experience, as we know it, was suddenly in doubt.

I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. Many people far smarter than me have expressed concerns and made equally dire predictions. How things ultimately play out remains to be seen. The 2021 summer movie season will be a major test for theaters, as a whole.

However, there are already signs that the industry has changed forever. It started with “Trolls World Tour” last spring, which ditched theaters together and debuted online exclusively, turning a healthy profit in the process. Then, Warner Brothers escalated things even further by saying all their 2021 movies will release simultaneously within theaters and on HBO Max.

On top of that, Disney is also trying their hand in simultaneous release. They announced that they’ll be releasing the long-delayed “Black Widow” both in theaters and on Disney-plus. While you’ll have to pay extra to see it on Disney-plus, the result is the same. Movie theaters are suddenly less relevant in the movie-viewing experience.

It’s hard to overstate just how big a deal this is for the industry.

It’s also hard to overstate just how big an impact the pandemic has had on the movie industry, as we know it.

It may very well be the case that “Avengers Endgame” was the last true blockbuster. We may never see a movie gross that kind of money ever again. That, alone has many implications.

However, I don’t want to focus too much on those just yet. Instead, I want to talk about my own movie-going habits and how they have changed recently. Like so many others, I was very excited to watch Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” on HBO Max. I built my entire Saturday night around watching it.

There’s a lot I can say about this movie. If you want a full review, you can check the YouTube video I made for it right here.

Beyond my excitement and reaction to that movie, I felt an impact beyond the general experience of seeing a movie that so many had fought to get released. This really didn’t come off as just me settling in on a Saturday night and binging a movie from a random streaming service, which I’ve done plenty of times before.

My experience with “Justice League” was different.

I feel like it may affect other movie-going experiences in the future.

To explain why, I also need to explain what I did to prepare to watch that movie. I didn’t treat it like watching any other movie on HBO Max or any other streaming service. Instead, I went out of my way to recreate the movie theater experience.

I closed the blinds to my windows.

I dimmed the lights in my living room.

I even ordered a pizza and got a six pack of beer. That’s not typically what I get when I go to a movie in the theaters, but since this was a four-hour movie and I wasn’t bound by theater rules, I wanted to make the most of it.

After all, this movie wasn’t ever coming out in theaters. If I wanted that experience, I had to recreate it myself. It was not exactly a perfect duplicate. I don’t live in a fancy house that I could turn into a make-shift movie theater. I haven’t sold enough novels yet.

Despite those limited resources, the experience I created for “Justice League” was both effective and personal. It allowed me to basically consume a new blockbuster movie in my own unique way. While I didn’t expect that effort to have too great an impact, I can say not that it definitely changed the experience.

This wasn’t just me re-watching a favorite movie of mine.

This wasn’t me watching a movie that I saw in theaters.

This was me creating my own experience for a new release.

When all was said and done, I found myself planning to do it again. I may ultimately do it with all HBO Max movies that come out this year. That doesn’t mean I won’t see some in theaters, but watching Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” showed me what a more personal movie-watching experience could be.

It also left me somewhat conflicted on how I’ll see “Black Widow” when it comes out. Before I saw “Justice League,” I had every intention of watching it in the theaters, like I’ve done with every Marvel movie since “Iron Man.” Now, I’m not so sure.

Do I go to a movie theater, buy my favorite refreshments, and watch it like I used to watch all new movies?

Do I try to recreate what I did with “Justice League” and consume movies that way?

I’m honestly torn. I still enjoy going to theaters. I don’t exactly have a big screen TV that comes close to matching the screens at a movie theater. I also don’t have a 3-D TV that can take advantage of that feature. However, I can’t sneak a six-pack of beer into a theater or pause the movie when I need to take a bathroom break.

There are positives and negatives for both. I’ll certainly attempt to refine my movie-seeing experience at home with future HBO releases. In doing so, that may ultimately make watching a movie from home more preferable to watching it in a theater. As a result, me going to a movie theater might become a rarity.

It may be the case that Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” was a one-time thing that I’ll never recreate. If not, then I’m very curious to see if others had a similar experience. I’m also curious to see how this will play out as the world emerges from this pandemic and the movie industry seeks to rebuild. If you had a similar experience Zack Snyder’s “Justice League,” or something similar, please share it in the comments. I have a feeling the way people consume movies and media is bound to change considerably in the coming years and not just because of the pandemic.

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Filed under DC Comics, movies, real stories, superhero movies, television

What I Plan To Do With My Stimulus Check (And Suggestions For Others)

For anyone on social security or disability, getting regular money from the government is not a novel concept. It’s part of the social contract in many western style democracies. You work for much of your life. You contribute to society and the economy. Then, at a certain age, we make an effort to return the favor.

It’s noble and reasonable system, despite what some libertarians would have you believe. I have close family members who use it. I’m happy to pay into that system to help them.

However, the global pandemic that unfolded last year did a lot to shake up the system. I’ve covered some of those shake-ups before, but I’d like to highlight one byproduct in particular. As it just so happens, it’s one of the less dour results of this horrible crisis.

It has to do with money, specifically the money many people got in the form of stimulus checks last year. For many who aren’t retired or over 65, it was a big deal. The economic impact of the pandemic was nothing short of catastrophic. Even after nearly a year, many people still haven’t recovered. A few parts of the economy probably never will.

These stimulus checks weren’t meant to be a perfect solution. They were a band aid and some would argue they weren’t a good one. Personally, I disagree. I think it has opened people up to the idea that a government should take care of all its citizens, especially during a global crisis.

What a concept, right?

It is capable of sending everyone money. It’s just a matter of political will, which is always messy to say the least.

That will was enough to earn most of us two stimulus checks thus far. To date, I’ve received $1,800, with $1,200 coming from the first and $600 coming from the next. After the recent bill that made it through Congress, I received another $1,400.

Again, it’s a band aid. I doubt this will do much to fix the serious problems that many others are still dealing with, but it’s better than nothing. I certainly welcome this money. I even have an idea on how to spend it.

That’s noteworthy because, unlike the previous stimulus checks, I can actually spend this money on something non-essential. My first stimulus check went largely to paying down debts and a few overdue home repairs that I didn’t want to put off. The second went to some car repairs that I wanted to take care of before winter rolled in.

In hindsight, those were smart investments. The stimulus didn’t pay for all of it, but it did help ease the strain on my wallet.

This latest $1,400 promises to do more than just pay down my usual living expenses. As of now, assuming no unexpected costs come my way, I want to put this money towards something I know I’ll get plenty of use from.

To that end, I hope to put this money towards a new computer.

At the moment, I’m working on a computer that I bought back in 2015. Now, this computer has served me very well. I’ve made many videos and written many sexy short stories on it. However, for the past two years, it has shown its age.

It’s starting to slow down considerably. Just rebooting it takes way too long. It’s also struggling to handle the video editing software that I’ve come to rely on for my YouTube channel. If I want to keep making that kind of content, I need a better system that can handle better software.

It also doesn’t help that my previous PC wasn’t exactly top-of-the-line. It wasn’t cheap, either. I usually buy computer hardware that’s somewhere in the middle. This time, however, I want to buy something that’s a bit beyond that.

That doesn’t mean I’ll buy the most expensive system I can find. This stimulus money simply means I can buy more than usual. Hopefully, it’ll get me a system that’ll last a good long while. In addition, I hope it can handle some better video editing software, which I hope will show in future videos.

That’s my plan, for now. It’s always subject to change, a hard lesson we all had to learn in 2020. If you’re getting a stimulus check too, I hope you get to use it on something like this, as well. Maybe a new computer is a worthy investment. Maybe it’s something else.

Whatever it is, especially if you’re not retired, I hope it’s something useful. If you have other ideas on how to use this money, please share it in the comments. We’re almost through this mess. Some of us aren’t going to get a check like this from the government for years. I say let’s make the most of it.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, politics, real stories

One Year Ago: The NBA Cancelled A Game Moments Before Tip-Off (And The End Of Normal Began)

It’s amazing to think of where we were at this time last year. It feels so long ago. It might as well have been another century. The simple experience of going out, hanging out with friends, or attending a sporting event seemed so casual. Being in a crowded arena with cheering fans never felt unsafe. It was just loud and roucouse.

That all changed in March 2020. That’s when the world, as we knew it, started to fall apart as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. I already recounted my own experience when I felt the impact like everyone else. I have a feeling everyone has their moment when they realized this was not going to just blow over easily.

However, if there was one moment in which everybody realized that this was serious, it was when major sports leagues started shutting down. Suddenly, this activity we turn to for an escape was no more. These were billion-dollar leagues who had plenty of incentive to keep playing, regardless of what the news said. The idea of any major league shutting down seemed unthinkable.

The unthinkable finally happened on March 11, 2020 when the Utah Jazz were scheduled to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in a major primetime match-up on ESPN. The arena was packed. People were cheering. Nobody was wearing masks or socially distancing. They were all just ready to escape the news and have a good time.

The game was still scheduled to play. The pre-game show happened without any indication that something was wrong. The players had warmed up and were ready to go. Then, there was a delay. A bunch of officials began discussing something. Nobody had any idea what it was about. Nobody would’ve suspected that the game, the NBA, and the entire sports world was about to shut down.

Looking back at that moment, it seems so ominous and eerie. It might have been the last glimpse of “normal” that we ever saw. Just watch the highlight posted by ESPN that same night. Watch as the world, as we knew it, changed before our eyes.

I’m not a huge basketball fan. I don’t follow the NBA as closely as I follow other sports, like baseball and football. However, seeing this gave me chills. It still does. Listening to these announcers talk about basketball, the season, and the importance of this game seems so surreal.

They have no idea what’s about to happen to the league and the world.

Nobody in that arena knew, from the players to the people serving drinks in the stands.

It really was unthinkable, a game being suspended this close to tip-off because of a pandemic. When it happened, it was the first domino to fall in the sports world. Everything after that just built on the nightmare that unfolded throughout 2020.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you still understand on some levels how much they mean to people. The world may seem crazy, but we always had our sports and our movies to escape. We never thought things would get so bad that it would all just shut down. Then, it happened and even after an entire year, we having recovered.

That scene in this highlight of a packed arena with cheering fans and no masks seems almost unattainable now. I still believe we’ll see something like this again, hopefully later this year. Right now, though, it’s an eerie reminder of the day we all realized things were about to get much worse than we ever could’ve imagined.

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Filed under Current Events, real stories, sports

The COVID-19 Pandemic: One Year Later

At this time last year, the world was a very different place. There’s a running joke that people now refer to this as “the before times,” but in retrospect, it’s no laughing matter. The world, as we knew it, before the COVID-19 pandemic might as well have been a different universe. Honestly, I look back at those times with mixed emotions now.

Back then, we could go to a crowded movie theater and not feel unsafe.

Back then, we could go to a restaurant without a mask and not feel at risk.

Back then, we could go to a concert or sporting event and enjoy being surrounded by thousands of cheering fans.

Back then, we could decide to travel on a whim, going wherever we pleased without concern about what was closed or cancelled.

I long for those times, as well. I miss them as much as everyone else. Even with all the encouraging news about vaccines and improved treatment, the world is a long way from returning to those fanciful times. Some wonder if we’ll ever go back. I hope we do, but I don’t want to dwell too much on that.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because, here in America, we’re nearing the one-year mark for one things really went south. The COVID-19 pandemic may have begun in late 2019, but the world didn’t really start feeling the effects until February 2020. That’s when the news started to get scary and dire. That’s also when things started shutting down, from major sports to major events.

However, it really didn’t sink in until March 2020. That’s when it became painfully clear. This was not going away quickly. This was not some storm that would pass. It was not going to go away after a few weeks, despite what some claimed. It was when the harsh reality sank in. The pandemic was here and our lives were never going to be the same.

I remember where I was at this time last year. I was having coffee with my mother on a Sunday morning. She too had been watching the news. We were both concerned, but didn’t know just how bad it was going to get. On that same day, I started getting notices from friends and family. The next day, the state made it official.

Everything was being locked down. Schools were closing. Movie theaters were closing. Everything that wasn’t essential was being locked down. People had to either start teleworking or lose their jobs completely. Nobody could travel outside their state. Some states even began stopping people with out-of-state plates from entering. It was that serious.

It happened so fast. In just a few days, the world as we knew it shut down. We didn’t know how long it would last. We didn’t know how bad it was going to get, but it got pretty damn bad.

To date, over 2.5 million people have died from this pandemic. Millions more have been sickened and left to suffer. Numbers like that are impossible to wrap your head around. This pandemic crossed borders, cultures, and classes of all kinds. It didn’t matter what you believed in or who you voted for. You were still vulnerable.

It’s hard to overstate how much this pandemic has changed our world in the past year, so I’m not going to try. I don’t doubt that it will have a major place in future history books. It will also be a traumatic moment in our collective memories.

Regardless of your age or background, you’ve felt the effects of this pandemic. This past year has seared itself in your memory for all the wrong reasons. We’re at a point where we can barely remember what the world was like before all this happened. It’s a painful reality, but one we cannot and should not ignore.

I’ll definitely remember this past year. No matter how long I live, I suspect I’ll feel the effects of this year until my dying days. I don’t claim to know what will happen in years to come or how much the world will change from here on out. I just know that, one year ago, the world as I knew it changed forever.

We all took it for granted. We can look back on it fondly, but let’s not dwell on it too much. We can’t change the past. We can only effect the present.

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Filed under Current Events, health, Jack Fisher's Insights, real stories

Finding An Available COVID-19 Vaccine With A (Very) Useful Website

I’m not a doctor. I’m not the least bit qualified to give medical advice. Unless it involves superhero comics, football, or 90s sitcoms, I have little to no expertise in that field. I’m just a guy who writes sexy stories and makes YouTube videos.

With that disclaimer aside, I do feel comfortable giving one bit of advice. It’s simple and you’ve probably heard it from people who are much smarter than I’ll ever be.

Please, if you can, get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

I know that’s easier said than done. Hopefully, with the recent approval of a third vaccine, it’ll be even easier in the coming weeks. Even with supplies being so limited, I encourage everyone to make the effort. To help, I’d like to share a very useful tool that I recently found, courtesy of NPR. It’s called Vaccine Finder.

Please, if you ever bookmark a website, make it this one. It may very well help end this horrible pandemic just a little bit sooner. If you need more information on it, here’s the same NPR story that I came across that explains what it is and how to use it.

NPR: CDC Launches Web Tool To Help Americans Find COVID-19 Vaccines

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with Boston Children’s Hospital and Castlight Health, is launching a new tool that allows Americans to search for COVID-19 vaccine providers with stock of vaccine where they live.

The tool, which builds on the existing VaccineFinder.org platform, will capture inventory data from vaccine providers around the country.

In most states, the initial launch is limited to certain providers — those getting the vaccine directly from the federal government. In Alaska, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee, the tool shows all the vaccine providers, including hospitals, clinics and public health vaccination sites.

Residents of those four states can look up their cities or ZIP codes and find an interactive map of all the places administering COVID-19 vaccines and see which ones have vaccine doses in stock.

Again, I’m not expert, but this website will help you link to people who are. Check it daily. Make it part of your morning routine. Make your coffee and then use this site to try and locate a vaccine. Then, make the appointment and follow all the necessary steps. You’ll help yourself, your loved ones, and your entire community.

We’re almost through this horrific pandemic. We’ll get through it faster if we all make the effort. Hopefully, this website will help.

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The First CRISPR Patients Are Living Better: Why That Matters After 2020

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about CRISPR, biotechnology, and the prospect of ordinary people enhancing their biology in ways straight out of a comic book. In my defense, this past year has created plenty of distractions. Some have been so bad that my usual optimism of the future has been seriously damaged.

While my spirit is wounded, I still have hope that science and technology will continue to progress. If anything, it’ll progress with more urgency after this year. A great many fields are bound to get more attention and investment after the damage done by a global pandemic.

We can’t agree on much, but we can at least agree on this. Pandemics are bad for business, bad for people, bad for politics, and just objectively awful for everyone all around, no matter what their station is in life.

There’s a lot of incentive to ensure something like this never happens again is what I’m saying. While we’re still a long way from ending pandemics entirely, we already have tools that can help in that effort. One is CRISPR, a promising tool I’ve talked about in the past. While it wasn’t in a position to help us during this pandemic, research into refining it hasn’t stopped.

Despite all the awful health news of this past year, some new research has brought us some promising results on the CRISPR front. In terms of actually treading real people who have real conditions, those results are in and they give us reason to hope.

One such effort involved using CRISPR to help treat people with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic condition that hinders the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen. It affects over 4 million people worldwide and often leads to significant complications that can be fatal.

Since CRISPR is all about tweaking genetics, it’s a perfect mechanism with which to develop new therapies. Multiple patients have undergone experimental treatments that utilize this technology. In a report form NPR, the results are exceeding expectations for all the right reasons.

NPR: First Patients To Get CRISPR Gene-Editing Treatment Continue To Thrive

At a recent meeting of the American Society for Hematology, researchers reported the latest results from the first 10 patients treated via the technique in a research study, including Gray, two other sickle cell patients and seven patients with a related blood disorder, beta thalassemia. The patients now have been followed for between three and 18 months.

All the patients appear to have responded well. The only side effects have been from the intense chemotherapy they’ve had to undergo before getting the billions of edited cells infused into their bodies.

The New England Journal of Medicine published online this month the first peer-reviewed research paper from the study, focusing on Gray and the first beta thalassemia patient who was treated.

“I’m very excited to see these results,” says Jennifer Doudna of the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize this year for her role in the development of CRISPR. “Patients appear to be cured of their disease, which is simply remarkable.”

Make no mistake. This is objectively good news and not just for people suffering from sickle cell disease.

Whenever new medical advances emerge, there’s often a wide gap between developing new treatments and actually implementing them in a way that makes them as commonplace as getting a prescription. The human body is complex. Every individual’s health is different. Taking a treatment from the lab to a patient is among the biggest challenge in medical research.

This news makes it official. CRISPR has made that leap. The possible treatments aren’t just possibilities anymore. There are real people walking this planet who have received this treatment and are benefiting because of it. Victoria Gray, as referenced in the article, is just one of them.

That’s another critical threshold in the development of new technology. When it goes beyond just managing a condition to helping people thrive, then it becomes more than just a breakthrough. It becomes an opportunity.

It sends a message to doctors, researchers, and biotech companies that this technology works. Some of those amazing possibilities that people like to envision aren’t just dreams anymore. They’re manifesting before our eyes. This is just one part of it. If it works for people with Sickle Cell Disease, what other conditions could it treat?

I doubt I’m the first to ask that question. As I write this, there are people far smarter and more qualified than me using CRISPR to develop a whole host of new treatments. After a year like 2020, everyone is more aware of their health. They’re also more aware of why science and medicine matter. It can do more than just save our lives. It can help us thrive.

We learned many hard lessons in 2020, especially when it comes to our health. Let’s not forget those lessons as we look to the future. This technology is just one of many that could help us prosper in ways not possible in previous years. We cheered those who developed the COVID-19 vaccine. Let’s start cheering those working on new treatments with CRISPR.

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Vaccine Update: Making Sense Of The (Critical) Data On The Johnson & Johnson Vaccine

Last year did a lot to crush my usually optimistic outlook on the future. I experienced a level of cynicism I haven’t felt since high school, a time when I only ever assumed things would get worse and rarely made an effort to change that. It was bad. Global pandemics have that effect on people.

I still made it a point to note when positive things actually happened, especially when it came to news of the vaccine. That marked the ultimate turning point. A vaccine was always going to be our best weapon in terms of ending the pandemic, regardless of what the anti-vaxx crowd says. The fact that we now have two vaccines at our disposal is genuinely encouraging.

Yes, I know the distribution of these vaccines has been a mess, to say the least.

I also don’t deny that the emergence of new mutant strains of the virus could hinder their effectiveness.

Those are legitimate concerns. We should all be worried about how this will impact our ability to finally end this awful pandemic that has caused so much damage. At the same time, we should also be hopeful. Believe me, I’m trying.

That hope got another boost recently when it was announced that a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson had completed its final round of trials. Having a third weapon against this virus can only help. In addition, this one has the advantage of being a one-shot vaccine, as opposed to the two required by Moderna and Pfizer.

While that’s good news for those who hate needles, there is a trade-off. According to the research reported by the media, the vaccine is effective. However, the numbers aren’t quite as promising as what we got with the first two. This is what CNN reported.

CNN: Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is 66% effective in global trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, company says

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

But experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world.

I know the numbers are the only thing that stands out in this piece. That seems to be the main sticking point for most reports about this virus.

Those numbers are still good. The 66% may not be as promising as the 90% promised by the other two, but that’s still more effective than a standard flu vaccine. On top of that, being a one-shot vaccine that can be easily stored in a typical refrigerator will help even more. It means more of this vaccine can get to people, especially in places with less-than-ideal health infrastructure.

This will definitely help in terms of ending or at least mitigating this pandemic. However, there’s one other critical point of data that’s worth highlighting with this vaccine. It’s in some of the reports, but it’s often difficult to discern, mostly because the media’s track record with reporting science is not that great.

For this vaccine, it’s boils down to certain degrees within the data. It’s true the Johnson & Johnson vaccine won’t give you the same protection you’d get from the other two. There’s a good chance that, even after getting this vaccine, you could still become very sick with COVID-19. However, and this is the key, it will help ensure that you don’t become severely ill and die.

That’s not just a sales pitch. According to the research, there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm. That may mean some did get sick. Some might have even spread it. However, they didn’t get so sick that they ended up in the hospital. They all survived.

To me, at least, that’s the most important result. Getting sick is one thing. Getting so sick that you die in a hospital bed is something else entirely. One is a bad flu. The other is debilitating illness. That alone makes this vaccine a critical tool in the effort to end this pandemic.

I admit that if I had a choice between the three, I would choose Moderna or Pfizer. I actually know someone who got the Pfizer vaccine and their experience gives me great assurance that it works as intended.

However, if those two were not available and all I could get was the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’d take it in a heartbeat. It could mean the difference between being sick and being deathly ill. In a pandemic, that’s the only difference that matters. To all the doctors, nurses, participants, and health care workers who were part of this effort, I sincerely thank you. A lot of lives will be saved because of this vaccine. That makes you true heroes in a world that badly needs them.

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