In a dark mid-December late last year – with rampant infections underway, hospitals pushed to the brink – 2021 made such a promise. The coronavirus had changed the world, and vaccines promised to change it back.
The country was increasingly tired of the pandemic. Divisions of privilege, class and race were strained as more Americans became ill, stayed home and felt their lives falter under sanctions and closures.
But news of two vaccines, one by a pharmaceutical giant and another by an upstart biotech firm, promised to put the system down. An 11-month sprint to stop the spread of COVID-19 had ended with emergency use authorizations for Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna.
If their methods sounded like science fiction – teaching cells to make up part of a virus that the immune system would then attack – then the results were all the more surprising: each more than 94% effective.
With numbers like this, shutdown will end. Closed schools, businesses, restaurants will reopen, the silence and isolation will soon end.
We had no idea that we would become our own worst enemy.
By New Year’s Day, the most ambitious public health campaign in the nation’s history had begun, and by the end of January, more than 25 million Americans had rolled up their sleeves.
But the more urgent the need, the sooner the execution will be chaotic. There were shortages, setbacks, confusion and scandal. Vaccine hunters gathered on Facebook to jump at the head of a line designed in favor of the most vulnerable.
Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine joins others. But production at its Baltimore manufacturing plant was halted due to pollution; 60 million doses were destroyed. Then, when a small number of J&J recipients developed a rare blood clotting disorder, federal officials raised a flag (and then turned it down with a few warnings).
Most of the new vaccines felt like they had won the lottery. Volunteers and the National Guard waved lines of people and cars through convention centers and stadiums. Mass testing sites became mass vaccination sites, and in a snowstorm in Oregon, health workers stuck in traffic behind a jackknife semi went from car to car administering six Moderna doses that would have otherwise gone bad.
“I can’t imagine a better way to spend four hours stuck in a snowstorm,” said Michael Weber, a public health director.
After months of being alone and apart, the country may begin to come together again. By the end of January, 1.2 million doses a day were being administered, and a few weeks later, President Biden visited a Pfizer plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, predicting a return to normalcy by the end of the year. “And God willing,” he said, “this Christmas will be different from the last.”
A month later the daily vaccination rate had more than doubled. A goal of vaccinating 70% of all Americans by the Fourth of July was in sight, and the virus-ravaged country began to rebuild.
There was work to be done. The marks of 2020 were still with us. Days of uncertainty and fear – sirens at night, graphs and dashboards of rising infections and deaths, the madness of current events – had taken their toll.
Virtual learning was failing, students were dropping out, suicide groups reported. Unemployment and homelessness have risen despite trillion-dollar stimulus bills.
Many were angry or sad. Few felt guilty or lucky, and by the anniversary of the pandemic’s declaration, the country paused to witness the more than half a million dead whose final days not only reflected the horrors of the disease but also inequalities in health care and social justice. Saw. ,
The tribute to so many ordinary people was extraordinary: simple lives marked by simple pleasures – love of family, commitment to a cause, courage in the face of illness – that would have been overlooked if COVID had not removed them from obscurity.
But even the most open-hearted feel tired. “Our emotions are not good at quantitative assessment,” explained Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene. “As the numbers go up, we become more insensitive.”
The numbness caused discomfort and, first of all, some innocent calculations. The family reunited. Friends met for coffee. Little Leaguers took to the field. The couple kissed in public.
Caveats followed: Too early, too fast. “The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking,” the president said when Texas and Mississippi withdrew their masked mandates in early March.
But as the days progressed, the country was moving ahead.
The final night of the April Stock Show and Rodeo in San Angelo, Texas sold out in minutes. Morning prayers in Brooklyn, NY filled a street with worshipers marking the end of Ramadan, and on the first day of summer, Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters stood in front of 20,000 fans at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s time you learn to live again,” Grohl sang tearfully at the start of the three-hour show.
Of course, learning to live again was not just America’s desire, and overseas the need became more desperate.
In Brazil, the COVID death rate climbed to 125 – per hour. In Indonesia, dozens of people died over the weekend when a hospital ran out of oxygen. In Africa, some countries counted more than 1,000 new cases a day, and leaders accused wealthy countries of vaccine nationalism.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization director for Africa, said: “Export restrictions and vaccine hoarding still remain a stumbling block on the lifeline of vaccine supplies to Africa.”
In India, the sky was darkened by the smoke of the pyre.
The coronavirus had a new lesson to teach. The more it was repeated, the more it mutated, and the delta variant entered the dictionary. Efficient and deadly, it spreads easily like chickenpox.
“The war has changed,” said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in an internal document released in late July, just as 380,000 fans descended on Chicago for Lollapalooza, the four-day music festival that has been posted as # on some social media sites. I was trending. Deltapalooza.
The impulse to gather and celebrate was too strong to stop.
No longer primarily targeting the old and vulnerable, COVID has now affected younger and healthier people. Arguments from hospitalizations and doctors, nurses and hospital staff in Michigan, Texas, Louisiana and Florida, plagued by an illness whose unpredictability left bereaved family members consoling a cry for help, went unanswered. Went.
“I don’t want to put my life on the line just because people don’t want to get vaccinated or to hear what health professionals are advising,” said Pascaline Muhindura, a registered nurse in the critical care unit at Research Medical Center. In Kansas City, Mo.
In a race against time and nature, federal health officials scramble to come up with a new campaign, but the battle lines are abruptly set.
Since vaccines were introduced, 14% of the country’s population said they would never get a shot. They claimed religious or health exemptions. He cited distrust of the government and long joined forces with anti-vaxxers, who saw the pandemic as an opportunity to erode individual rights, increase authoritarian control, punish the middle class, and funnel wealth to the wealthy. .
The heatwave on 16 September killed 3,418 people, one of the highest daily totals since the pandemic began. The delta variant was responsible, but most of those infected were not vaccinated.
“The science is anti-death,” said Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and specialist in tropical infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.
With the start of the school year and the number of pediatric cases doubling across the country, the American Academy of Pediatrics has called on the FDA to “aggressively” move toward authorizing COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12. urged to work.
As the charts for public health agencies skyrocket, civil liberties debate has raged between Democrats and Republicans.
In California, Governor Gavin Newsom faced opponents who targeted his handling of the pandemic with a recall effort. In Washington, DC, Texas’s GOP sens. Ted Cruz and North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer propose federal law that would prevent masks or vaccines…