Scientists discovered a craggy, cigar-shaped object with a reddish hue soaring near earth a couple of years ago at a speed so fast it must have been catapulted by a star other than the sun. A summary in Business Insider quoted author Avi Loeb as saying it wasn’t something created naturally, and therefore “was a piece of advanced technology created by a distant alien civilization.”
Or maybe, with our recent luck, the thing is full of more germs we don’t know how to deal with.
Right now, it is as if the COVID-19 vaccines are life-saving flotation devices on giant government boats. Not enough people are onboard to throw them over, while bobbing heads wait in choppy seas, hoping to snag one before a COVID shark comes along and bites them.
It doesn’t help that a new, faster spreading variant of the virus is on the loose, has shut down Britain and is heading this way.
This may not be what you want to hear right now, but everyone needs to relax a bit and realize what we’re up against. Vaccinating a nation of 328 million people, let alone a world of 7 billion, is a huge problem, especially when people want their shots now.
In other words, don’t throw those masks away, yet.
History isn’t much help. We haven’t been too good at this before, even when it comes to vaccines we now tout as huge successes.
Yes, the first weeks of vaccination distribution have been rough. As of Monday, the CDC reported 15,418,500 doses had been distributed, but only 4,563,260 people had received their first dose. In Utah, 144,275 doses were available, but only 48,909 people had gotten a shot.
Yes, the Trump administration had promised to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of 2020, a rash goal that quickly ran into a wall of real-life problems.
Yes, the rollout has been chaotic. Every state has its own rules and priorities for who goes first. And yes, some people have cut in line. A Disney employee was able to brag about getting one from Redlands Community Hospital in California, which had decided to give soon-to-expire shots to people nearby rather than throw them away. (Note to self: If you ever get something that ought to have gone to people who need it more, don’t brag.)
But the rollout was just as rough, or worse, in the mid-1950s after Jonas Salk developed a successful polio vaccine. Back then, Democrats wanted the vaccine to be free, but the Eisenhower administration worried that would lead to socialism, so it let the private sector handle the rollout, licensing six companies with no real federal plan to guide them.
According to an op-ed in the Philly Voice by Carl Kurlander and Randy P. Juhl, professors at the University of Pittsburgh, a black market emerged after the price of a vaccine rose 10-fold. Then, an incorrectly made batch from the Cutter Laboratories in California left 40,000 children sick, 200 paralyzed and 10 dead.
Probably the only thing that kept this from completely destroying confidence in the vaccine was the lack of an internet. Today, we wouldn’t be so lucky.
And yet, problems and all, the vaccine dropped cases of polio nationwide from nearly 58,000 in 1952 to about 5,500 in 1957 and, despite a surge in the late ‘50s attributed to ignorance and apathy, to 17 in 1964.
That was a success, but it also wasn’t overnight.
Unlike polio, which was mainly a childhood disease, we are battling something that has threatened the economy, sent workers home or to the unemployment line and kept us from attending sporting events, concerts and even church.
We don’t have the time or the patience to wait a year or two for cases to drop dramatically.
And so we have demanded the creation of a vaccine in record time and a rollout that defies all previous expectations. We got the vaccine — a miracle not adequately appreciated. The rollout is going to require patience.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney has suggested enlisting everyone from veterinarians to medical students to give shots and, one hopes, keep records. He has criticized the administration for not having a better plan.
All in all, that’s probably a better plan than waiting for aliens to swoop in with their cigar-shaped spacecraft and help give the shots. Just don’t lose sight of the enormity of vaccinating the world, and be grateful your turn is coming soon.