I've started writing a response to the presidential election, but it's long, and it's not done. So I thought I would instead write about something that should have been a key issue of the election, but as with all expectations about what we should have been talking about with 45, was overwhelmed with all the other, louder, issues.
This morning it was announced that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was 70% effective, with the possibility of being up to 90% effective. This follows on announcements by Pfizer and Moderna that their vaccines are 90% or more effective. As The Economist cover this week noted, "Suddenly, hope".
There are some caveats - these trials are not yet complete, for one. The 'interim data' means that less than half of 1% (170 of 43,661 volunteers) of the people have caught the virus. While we should be careful to note that this is statistically a strong showing, it's still not even a complete stage three trial. And, of course, these are the announcements the companies themselves are making. Again, I can't think of a reason they would fudge, knowing the scrutiny their data will be under, nevertheless a touch of caution is worth holding on to.
So as the country and the world watch COVID-19 explode (the local, state, national, and global numbers are surprisingly similar in terms of the shape of growth), and as everyone who isn't a Republican death-cultist tries to convince Americans not to have huge indoor family gatherings for Thanksgiving, we can see hope.
There are challenges. And here, it's worth taking a step back for a moment to note how we have all become, to some degree or another, public health experts, who can talk not only about mRNA vs traditional vaccines but also about the challenges of vaccine distribution. And, of course, about uptake, and the anti-vax movement.
Distribution is actually quite a challenge for one of the vaccines, which requires temps of -94 degrees F (-70 C). The others only require standard freezer temperatures. So even assuming we can make enough doses for everyone, in and of itself a challenge, we still have to get them out to people.
One bright spot I had not considered until this morning was something The Economist pointed out - so long as we don't have enough vaccines to go around, the anti-vax movement doesn't matter. That may seem grim, but it does give us some breathing room in addressing problems one at a time. Obviously, I hope someone, somewhere, is working on a marketing campaign like nothing we've seen to convince people to get inoculated once it is possible to do so. But even if we can't get everyone on board, it's not actually an issue until we have the vaccines to give them. So in terms of overall logistics it's nice to know we can address one issue at a time.
Once we do have to address the anti-vaxxers, we may have some headwinds. Some of the vaccines' side effects have been pretty brutal. The concerns are both obvious - people claiming the side effects are part of some tin-foil-hat plot to mind control us (and weirdly, I do think that's the obvious one) - and less obvious, like the idea that young people who don't see themselves as particularly at risk anyway might see the vaccine as not worth the pain it could inflict.
So that's where we are today. More than a quarter million Americans dead, a pandemic spinning out of control, and continued reticence by some Republican leaders to take action to stop the spread of the disease (here in Arkansas, Governor Hutchinson said he wouldn't do anything "that would harm Arkansas businesses or create more hardship", since obviously the continued march of death is great for business and creates no hardship). But at this point we can also see a future without an ongoing, all-consuming pandemic.