Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Celebration of the COVID Vaccines

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Science & Society, History of Science

Ed Hessler

"A freaking miracle" is how Helen Branswell described the Covid vaccines in a recent STAT article. "That miracle is the development, testing, manufacturing, and global distribution of Covid vaccines." We haven't noticed this as the relentlessness and length of the pandemic have upended our lives, and tragically cost so many lives here and abroad.

Not all of it has been rosy, e.g., the worldwide distribution of vaccines, especially in low income regions and countries of the world has not been equitable. "But, Branswell observes, "at least 55% of the people inhabiting this planet have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In affluent parts of the world, anybody who believes in the protective powers of vaccines has had the opportunity to be vaccinated for months now."

Consider what has been accomplished. Branswell calls attention to the time line: "In the 25 months since Chinese scientists first shared the genetic sequence of the newly discovered SARS-CoV-2 virus has defied the predictions of the most optimistic prognosticators. Eric Topol (Scripps Research Translational Institute) was skeptical when a 12 to 18 month development period was announced. He told Branswell "'I thought it was a fantasy. Pure fantasy.'" And now, “'In one year, half the species vaccinated — wow! '”  

It is true Branswell writes, that the vaccines based on mRNA, "haven't lived up to their initial billing, when they were shown to block roughly 95% of all infections. The initial 95% level of protection has declined over time" but "they have fundamentally altered the threat SARS-2 poses. Most people who have received three doses are shielded from serious disease and death, even in the face of Omicron, which is so different from the vaccine strain some experts are puzzled at why protection against severe disease remains so strong."

The "m" word, miracle, is not liked in science. There is a simple reason: it isn't true. The vaccines and their development were developed on a sturdy foundation of scientific research. The vaccines said Branswell are "the fruit of years of planning and research and major investments in science." In addition, there was capital to support the drug companies during their development. No matter our opinions about Trump", as Michael Diamond (Washington University) told her, "he did support a rapid acceleration of the program and should get some credit for it."'

Still, I like the title. It  jars us to think of an incredible scientific achievement based on rigorous research and evidence-based science and a nation with a long history of investing in basic, fundamental science. I appreciate Branswell's reporting on its quick development. It adds a much needed perspective on where we are in the pandemic.

3 Cheers! Or 6!


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