Tag Archives: Pandemic

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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A Post-Pandemic Valentine’s Day Prediction (That I Hope Is Wrong)

I’m sick of this pandemic. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but there’s no better way to say it.

I hate this goddamn virus. It has done so much damage to this world, killing so many people and causing so much suffering. I want it gone as much as everyone else.

Thankfully, the end is in sight. We now have two effective vaccines with which to end this pandemic. A third one is likely be approved very soon. This, along with other treatments, will help get this monster virus under control. It may not happen as fast as we hope, but it will happen.

I eagerly await the day when I can go to a movie theater, hang out at a bar, and not panic every time I forget my mask when I leave my house. Like many others, I find myself watching the trendline of the virus every day. I watched with the same dread as everyone when it went up towards the end of 2020. That was genuinely distressing.

Now, it’s trending downward. As more and more people get the vaccine, that trend is likely to continue and accelerate. Again, it won’t happen as fast as we want, but the data is encouraging. I sincerely hope that the worst of this pandemic is behind us.

That being said, I do have a prediction/suspicion about that trend. I’m not the best when it comes to predicting the future and I freely admit that every time I try. However, if ever there was an instance where my prediction turned out dead wrong, it’s this one.

That’s because I predict we’re going to have one last surge of COVID-19 cases before we can say the pandemic is over.

It probably won’t be nearly as big as the one we saw in late 2020. The vaccines will make certain of that. I still think we’ll see one last spike. Moreover, I think that spike will come as a direct result of Valentine’s Day.

I know those who are single, lonely, and/or not a romance fan like I am already despise this holiday. I personally have mixed feelings about it, being both single and a romance fan. At the same time, I don’t deny that some people take it seriously. Others just use it as an excuse to get frisky. It can be a beautiful thing most of the time.

There’s nothing wrong with getting extra romantic on Valentine’s Day when there’s not a pandemic going on. Unfortunately, this is not one of the times. It’s for that reason I believe the weeks following Valentine’s Day will see a surge that will frustrating everyone hoping the current trend continued downward.

Let’s face it. Being romantic on Valentine’s Day doesn’t exactly accommodate social distancing. Unless your fetish involves washing hands, it’ll probably create a few extra opportunities for the virus to spread. The same thing happened with the holidays in 2020. All the gatherings and get-togethers basically gave the virus a free ride to infect.

Valentine’s Day may not inspire as much traveling and gathering as Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s still an excuse for getting cozy and frisky with that special someone. Let’s face it. When you’re in love and/or horny, you’re not going to think straight. You may forget to wash your hands and cover your face for a while. Many will get away with it, but a few won’t.

Again, I sincerely hope I’m wrong about this. In the coming weeks, as more and more vaccinations occur, the end of this pandemic will draw closer. We’ll continue seeing those numbers drop. It’ll happen gradually, but it will happen. I don’t know when we’ll be able to officially declare this pandemic over, but that day will come sooner rather than later. I just worry that the various activities associated with Valentine’s Day may push that day back.

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The Future Of Telework: A Trend That Transcends Pandemics

In early 2020, which might as well be another lifetime, I speculated on the lasting impact of increased telework and distance learning due to the pandemic that uprooted our entire society. At the time, I didn’t know just how bad this pandemic would get. In my defense, my hopes were still intact. Now, they’re charred ashes, but that’s beside the point.

In essence, I speculated that once people got used to teleworking, they would not be eager to go back, even after the pandemic had passed. That wasn’t exactly a bold speculation. You don’t have to be a world class psychic to surmise that people will come to enjoy working in their underwear, not having to commute, and enjoying the general flexibility that telework affords.

I’ve been stuck in enough traffic jams to appreciate that kind of flexibility. I know I’m not the only one who might become too fond of telework.

Well, that all-too-obvious insight is starting to take hold in many sectors. It’s not just related to typical office work in cubicles. Everyone from the United States Military to big tech companies to law firms are embracing this new normal for the workplace. Even though it’s more out of necessity than innovation or good will, it’s still happening and there may be no going back.

The pandemic has already forced a mentality shift among the workforce. According to research done by Pew, telework was mostly seen as an optional benefit reserved for an affluent few. That’s not surprising. That kind of flexibility just felt more like a luxury, one that someone had to earn by establishing trust and credibility from an organization.

Now, it’s not just a necessity. It’s unavoidable. The world we’re living in now just cannot accommodate the same professional environment we once knew. I’ve worked in many professional environments before. I can attest that some of them are not built with pandemics in mind.

At one point, I worked at a company in which my desk was crammed into a closet-sized space with three other people. If even one of us caught a cold, we’d all be sick by the end of the week. It was that bad.

I doubt that’s an isolated case. In some of the jobs I’ve had, I have been able to work from home, but it’s only as a last resort. The only times I actually had to do it involved an emergency that occurred on a Saturday morning and one instance where the office was being renovated. In both cases, I still got plenty of work done. I just did it in my underwear.

In that sense, I get why many organizations reserve telework as a luxury rather than a norm. There’s this underlying sentiment that people will abuse it. If they can work from home, they just won’t get as much done. They’ll be too tempted to just grab a bag of chips, lie down on the couch, and watch game shows.

While I don’t doubt there are people who do that, this pandemic has revealed that most people aren’t assholes on that level. In some cases, it’s increasing productivity. Apparently, when workers are comfortable and afforded flexibility, they can get more done. That shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s still remarkable in its own way.

This has born itself out in subsequent studies and surveys. For some industries, telework is probably more productive in the grand scheme of things and that shouldn’t be surprising. Anyone who has ever had a lousy commute knows why. If a good chunk of your day is spent waking up, putting on itchy clothes, and spending hours in traffic, you’re not going to be in a very productive mood.

That won’t be the case for certain industries. If you’re a doctor, a police officer, a fire fighter, or a trucker, you just can’t telework. The nature of the work doesn’t allow it. That’s still going to be the case, at least until we have robots capable of doing those tasks, which we are working on. However, there’s also sizable chunk of work that could probably be done remotely.

I think the impacts of this emerging truth will extend far beyond the pandemic. I’ve already seen it with people I know. They enjoy teleworking. They don’t want to stop, even after the pandemic becomes a bleak footnote in history. Some are willing to still go into the office some of the time, but they would prefer to telework. I suspect that’s going to become the new normal.

Last year has proven that people can, for the most part, be responsible with the flexibility afforded by telework. As long as they’re getting the work done, who cares if they do it in their underwear while Netflix plays in the background? Considering how costly commutes can be and how expensive office space can be, it might just make more fiscal sense in the long run.

Like it or not, businesses and various organizations tend to err on the side of reducing operating costs. It may mean more employees waste time at home, but if the difference is made up by better productivity, then it’s a net gain overall.

That shift could have impacts that go far beyond business operations. If people have to commute less, then that makes living out beyond urban and suburban settings more feasible. Given how expensive it is to live in those areas, this could spread people out even more, which is an objectively good thing if you’re looking to prevent future pandemics.

It might even help those in depressed rural areas in need of human capital. I can easily imagine some people preferring the quiet, less crowded environment afforded by a rural setting. If they can live in that environment while still getting their work done via internet, assuming they have a reliable connection, then that’s another big benefit that goes beyond the business itself.

This is likely to be a trend. That’s not a fanciful prediction. We’re already seeing it happen. The pandemic just forced it to accelerate. There will likely be other impacts. It may very well change how cities, suburbs, and rural areas are planned from here on out.

I don’t claim to know the specifics, but we’ll likely see it continue in the coming years. I, for one, welcome this change. If I can reduce the amount of time spent in traffic and increase the amount of time I spend in my underwear, then my overall well-being improves considerably.

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Small Silver Linings: The Pandemic Is Killing The Flu

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.

CDC: Decreased Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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.

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Happy New Year 2021!

Happy New Year, everyone!

We did it. We made it through 2020. A new year is now upon us.

Usually, New Year is just a formality. However, this time is different. I’ve already highlighted why. I don’t want to belabor it again. Most of us with news feeds already know why 2020 sucked so much.

Instead of harping on how rough the previous year was, I just want to look ahead to 2021. It’s definitely going to be a year of rebuilding. We have a long road ahead of us, but we definitely have the tools to make 2021 much better than 2020. The bar for improvement is very low, but let’s not settle for less.

Today, let’s all just take a step back, take a deep breath, and take some satisfaction in that we made it this far. Quite a few poor souls weren’t as lucky. Let’s acknowledge and honor those who didn’t make it by making 2021 the best year it can possibly be.

Again, the bar is very low. Let’s still put in the extra work. If every there was a year to overcompensate, it’s this one.

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New Years Eve: Just One More Day Of 2020!

It’s almost over, everbody.

The final day of 2020 is upon us.

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.

We’ve made it this far. We’ve endured horrible story after horrible story. We navigated times in which time seemed to slow to a crawl. For some, it’s been a special kind of terrible. Let’s at least acknowledge that doctors and front line health care workers have had it the worst.

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.

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Christmas Eve: Sentiments And Reflections

It’s Christmas Eve.

All the holiday planning and preparation is about to come together, as it does every year on one glorious day.

When the year began, we probably had a good idea of how Christmas was going to look this year. We probably had a general idea of how the year would look in general.

Then, a once-in-a-generation pandemic struck and all those ideas collapsed.

However, I don’t want to spend Christmas Eve lamenting on how bad this year has gone. I’ve already done plenty 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.

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The First People Have Received The COVID-19 Vaccine (And We Should Celebrate)

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.

We can also say with a straight face that the COVID-19 pandemic is almost over. I say that knowing full-well that cases are still rising and people are still dying at a horrific pace. That’s still objectively terrible.

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.

It also is just the first. There are multiple vaccines in late stages of development. It’s very likely that we’ll have a second effective before New Years. That’s a powerful one-two punch to this pandemic that has killed so many and disrupted so many lives.

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.

CNN: ICU nurse in New York among the first people in the US to get authorized coronavirus vaccine

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.

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Why We Should End The Taboo About Giving Gift Cards

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.

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