The Advocate: Coronavirus vaccine development process historic, hopeful

The pandemic is still raging, but now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and doses are being administered, there is hope that we are nearing the end.

The coronavirus has killed far too many people. It has destroyed too many livelihoods. But by the summer we may be mostly done with it. People who believe in a higher power should pray and give thanks.

We are living through something historic this year, and in Louisiana we’ve felt the brutal wave of history in personal and private ways. New Orleans was of course an early hotspot, with the extra irony that Mardi Gras, that most joyous time, was likely a cause of extra suffering. This spring, our small towns watched helpless as the virus crept in. Soon a friend was infected, then another, then it was in the local old folks’ home.

We lost some of our brightest stars and kindest hearts, people like April Dunn of Baton Rouge, a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. Last week we lost Carol Sutton, a New Orleans actress known for mesmerizing performances and a love of her hometown.

The coronavirus isn’t history yet but there’s already plenty to learn.

One thing is how foolish we can be — together, as a species. Many still refuse to wear a mask. Too many have crowded together for a graduation party or snuck into a late-night bar to shirk the rules. It was and still is hard to be apart. But when our grandchildren learn how we acted they won’t view maskless barhopping as liberty-loving patriotism. With the clarity of time they’ll see it for what it is. Madness.

Another thing we ought to learn is how brilliant we can be. In a little more than the length of a major-league baseball season, scientists have invented and proved the efficacy of vaccines to end a global pandemic. In any other era in all the history of the world this would have been inconceivable.

Reasonable people will call it a miracle. It isn’t. It is the achievement of a society that for all its brokenness can still do great things. Our universities produce researchers that make groundbreaking discoveries, our hospitals train nurses that care for the sick at great personal risk, our elections elevate just enough competent leaders to pull us through. There are still honest working men and women who show up every day to stock grocery shelves and clean COVID-19 wards. We ought to offer them a great deal more respect.

As a people, we can be wretched and magnificent; greedy and magnanimous; cruel and unbelievably, unreasonably, unshakably kind. What this pandemic shows us is that we can still choose what we want to be. We can find ways to care for each other, to think rationally, to do the difficult and selfless things. There is a lot of work ahead. People are hurting terribly. Economies are destroyed. Evictions are coming. More will die.

But we can still make it through. To discover that again about ourselves is the miracle.

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