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COVID-19

We’re on the knife’s edge of the pandemic

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This is a surreal moment in the pandemic, brimming with hope and fear.

Here in the US we’re at the last leg in a marathon — vaccines are here, and appointments to get those shots are becoming more plentiful. People are planning for the moments they’ve put off for a year or more. The finish line is in sight.

At the exact same time, our will to power through to the end just slammed into a wall. Restrictions are lifting while cases are still high, sending case counts through the roof. Hospitals are getting crowded again. Testing has dropped, leaving us with incomplete information as new variants take hold.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope,” said Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a press conference this week. “But right now, I’m scared.”

It’s the juxtaposition of pandemic weariness and vaccine euphoria that may make the next few months the most heartbreaking as many people keep getting sick, and some tragically die.

In STAT this week, reporter Andrew Joseph writes about the particular agony families are going through as some members get vaccinated at the same time their loved ones pass away from COVID-19. “[A]s the weeks go by,” Joseph writes, “some deaths will increasingly feel like they might not have happened if vaccine campaigns were moving a bit faster, if we could hold off bumps in spread for a bit longer, if we could drive down transmission a bit more.”

The past year has been riddled with deaths that didn’t need to happen. Earlier this week, Deborah Birx, former coronavirus coordinator under the Trump Administration, said in a CNN interview that hundreds of thousands of deaths in the US could have been averted if the government had acted more swiftly. But even after all those lessons and all those unnecessary deaths, the death toll is still growing — slower than before, but it has nowhere to go but up.

Meanwhile, in stark contrast to our national grief, there’s the relief and joy of millions of people getting vaccinated every day.

It feels like we live in a permanent state of contradiction. Yesterday, the CDC was loosening travel guidelines for fully vaccinated people, while CDC director Walensky continued to urge people to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel. Texas and Mississippi are lifting mask mandates and California is easing restrictions, while President Biden warns repeatedly that the fight is not yet over.

We wait uncomfortably in this liminal space, caught between two potential ways that the next few months could play out before we ultimately cross the finish line. Will we pass through it beaming, with our friends and family at our side? Or will the heavens open with a roar, drenching us, and driving some people off the course before they can reach the end?

“You look out the front window and it’s raining,” Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention told The Washington Post, “but from the back window, it’s sunny. And your house is literally on the cusp of the storm and you don’t know which way it’s going to go — stormy, or is it going to be sunny? That’s sort of where we are in COVID.”

Here’s what else happened this week.

Research

COVID Showed How Trials for New Drugs Could Be Faster and Better
Drug trials are usually expensive, time-consuming and inaccessible — but the pandemic showed that they don’t have to be any of those things. Here’s an interesting interview about how they might change in the future. (Claudia Wallis/Scientific American)

COVID-19 vaccine ‘passports’ aren’t exactly like yellow fever certifications
Many different groups are looking for ways that people can prove whether or not they are vaccinated. But these ‘vaccine passports’ can be an ethical nightmare. For even more on vaccine passports, check out this Wired story. (Nicole Wetsman/The Verge)

Development

The Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Is Said to Be Powerfully Protective in Adolescents
Early tests of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds have shown that the vaccine is remarkably protective and safe. (Apoorva Mandivalli/The New York Times)

Errors ruin 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine
A mix-up in a vaccine production factory ruined 15 million doses of the one-shot vaccine. The doses will not be distributed. (Nicole Wetsman/The Verge)

Keeping covid vaccines cold isn’t easy. These ideas could help.
Many vaccines need to be kept cold in order to stay potent. It’s a complicated process now, but in the future, there may be some better options. (Wudan Yan/MIT Tech Review)

Perspectives

Amelia burst from her family’s car at a run and catapulted herself into her grandfather’s arms. Henry followed, a brand new monster truck in his backpack, waiting to hurtle across his grandparents’ floor. Jackie grabbed him so tight she nearly lifted him right out of his red Crocs. How big he’d grown. She was crying.

—Evan Allen chronicles one family’s emotional reunion for The Boston Globe.

More than Numbers

To the people who have received the 628 million vaccine doses distributed so far — thank you.

To the more than 129,998,978 people worldwide who have tested positive, may your road to recovery be smooth.

To the families and friends of the 2,832,850 people who have died worldwide — 553,946 of those in the US — your loved ones are not forgotten.

Stay safe, everyone.

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