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A plan to save lives meets human nature

Remember way back at the beginning of the pandemic, about a zillion years ago, when all we knew is that it could be bad for a while, but then schools actually closed?

That’s when we knew this was going to be inconvenient as hell and hoped it would not last too long.

Back then, there was some limited discussion about whether it was possible to come up with a vaccine, or whether that was even the right approach. The majority of scientists, and just as importantly politicians, decided the new coronavirus was probably lethal enough that taking the passive route and just hoping it would not slaughter too many of us was not advice anybody wanted to give or accept. With vaccines and other techniques, we could at least slow the spread of the virus long enough to prevent overwhelming our healthcare systems leading to needless death.

That ugly prospect, plus the fact that scientists had been working for decades on a new way to alter RNA, the protein tool used by cells for lots of essential tasks, pointed to the decision the world would take to defeat the new virus. We could make mRNA, “m” for messenger, to carry instructions for making a piece of protein that looks like the spikes coming out of the coronavirus. Our immune systems would learn to see that as a threat and target it, also destroying any of our cells that were manufacturing that faux enemy protein but resulting in the naturally lingering immune response effect for some time in the body.

That’s the vastly oversimplified science behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which proved to be amazingly good at that task in thousands of people tested. Faced with a virus that was killing people across the globe faster than a world war, the FDA authorized a parallel process that allowed developing and testing a manufacturing process at the same time those trials were happening. That’s why the vaccines could be deployed so quickly.

Capitalism deserves some credit here too since that’s the system we used to incentivize the whole commercial side of the process separately. Using the system was effective and fast, giving rise to the Trump administration’s apt name for the enterprise: Operation Warp Speed.

That entire direction happened because we decided to take immediate action to save lives. Nothing is certain, and scientists are always loath to tell you anything is a guarantee, because they only express such ideas in terms of relative statistical confidence. That confidence was high that we were taking the right path, that it was a good bet we could avoid vastly more death and disease by launching the vaccine effort.

That is IF we acted in concert and got the vaccines out to everyone fast enough to stay ahead of the inevitable evolution of the virus. To this day, the logistics of making and shipping vaccines are challenging, but the biggest obstacle has been human nature.

Human nature, multiplied across society, is skeptical enough to slow down the whole plan so much that we may be stuck in the loop none of us thought we’d be in for the current school year.

That skepticism — and I’m always skeptical of government and politicians — is stubborn enough that we may be looking at years of unnecessary disease, death and economic suffering as each new variant arises to throw a new wrench to “spike” our plans, as good as they were and are.

Those healthcare systems we wanted to avoid overwhelming are now in many places at that point, including here.

In Omak, Mid-Valley Hospital last week told the community it was “boarding” patients for days in hallways and even in a room supposed to be used for grieving families. The bigger hospitals they’re set up to ship patients to couldn’t take them. Their overflow capacity is being occupied by Covid-19 patients, mostly unvaccinated.

That means folks with normal, emergency needs, like heart attacks, also must wait, which can kill them.

If you’ve been putting off getting a vaccine, wait no longer. Think of that little jab as you doing your part to save lives and contribute to the common good. Because that’s what it is.

Scott Hunter

editor and publisher


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