In a year defined by so much death and darkness, the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine — several vaccines, in fact, making their way to communities across the nation — marks a welcome moment of hope and light.
One year ago, the world’s infectious disease specialists were only beginning to probe reports of a worrisome “pneumonia” outbreak in Wuhan, China. The first confirmed case in the United States of the novel coronavirus, designated SARS 1/4 u2011CoV 1/4 u20112, was confirmed in January, nearly a month later.
Yet on Tuesday afternoon in Norfolk, Yolanda Dumas became the first local resident to receive the coronavirus vaccine. The employee of Sentara Norfolk General’s environmental services department was warmly cheered by coworkers and Gov. Ralph Northam, who was on hand to witness the historic moment.
Excitement. Relief. Joy. Elation. All those emotions, and more, all at once. What a day.
When Americans first landed on the moon in 1969, it represented the end of an incredible journey — one that took years, consumed billions in public and private resources and required the determined efforts of thousands of people to see it through.
The development of a vaccine in so short a time is no less remarkable a journey. And instead of planting the U.S. flag on the surface of a distant world, the symbol of this achievement will be visible in schools welcoming children back, restaurants opening their doors, people feeling comfortable to once again gather together — everything we’ve missed these last few months.
Credit for this should be shared widely because a great many people had a hand in getting us to this place, where we can finally see an end to the pandemic.
Begin with the brave researchers in China — those in Wuhan who first sounded the alarm about the virus and the Shanghai Public Clinical Health Center team led by Professor Zhang Yongzhen, which sequenced the COVID-19 genome and made it available to world by posting it on the internet.
That set in motion the furious efforts of scientists around the world, who raced to learn more about the virus and how to combat it. Many researchers pivoted from their important work to devote their full attention to the deadly disease infecting scores around the world.
Very little can be achieved without the necessary resources, and the federal government was there to help. Operation Warp Speed put $14 billion in government funding toward a public-private partnership aimed at developing and distributing a safe and effective virus in record time.
Toward that end, Donald Trump deserves to share in the credit. While the administration’s response to this crisis has been largely shambolic, Operation Warp Speed is a notable exception. The vaccine effort shows what’s possible when everyone pulls in the same direction, and the president was part of that.
But we must not overlook the thousands of unnamed scientists, developers, researchers and manufacturers who effectively spun raw data into vaccine gold. Their tireless efforts may not receive the public acknowledgement that each individual deserves, but they deserve the abiding appreciation of a grateful nation.
Even the most optimistic timelines predicted it would take two years from the start of the outbreak to the administration of vaccines. Yet here we are, before the start of the new year, with health care workers inoculated in Hampton Roads.
It is wrong to call this achievement a miracle. In fact, it was anything but. A vaccine for a virus unknown a year ago only happened because of so much time, energy, money and know-how. It is a marvel, to be sure, but the product of science, not magic.
Health care workers will soon be insulated from a disease that’s claimed at least 300,000 American lives. They, in turn, will help protect the aged and infirm, those most at risk, essential workers and on down the line until everyone has access.
That will take months, but we are well on the way. For a year so dark, that represents a light of hope most welcome.