The Last Word: Vaccine (article in the RSA Journal)
The good folks at the prestigious and venerated RSA asked me to pen a little article about optimism in the time of vaccine. I wrote it at the end of January.
As someone who enjoys talking about the joyous wonders of medical science, there is an irony to the fact that although the past 12 months have seen an unprecedented rise in interest in medicine among the general public, this interest has, unfortunately, been imbued with an all-pervasive sense of doom. Yet when I sat down at work today to receive my Covid-19 vaccination from a military paramedic called Omar, I felt a sense of not only tremendous good fortune, but of hope. Of course, it is quite possible that was just Bill Gates controlling my brain via a local 5G mast, but I like to think it was more to do with what the vaccine represented. Behind the scary headlines and medical misinformation, an incredible effort has unfolded, with the long hours and hard work of scientists and medics worldwide over the past year culminating in the tiny syringe Omar held in his hand.
When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, researchers and clinicians in disparate fields rapidly came together to cooperate. They shelved their own passions and interests in deference to a greater goal, scientific learning was shared like never before and new alliances were formed. In the UK, the national structure of the health service, a rich culture of medical research and collaboration that has attracted talent from around the world, and an established nationwide clinical trial infrastructure meant that the country led the way internationally. We have produced the most important Covid-19 drug trial to date and offered the world the first effective therapy.
The intercontinental scientific push towards solving a Problem Like Corona is also likely to have some wide-ranging benefits beyond the virus itself. Preparing for future pandemics will be a priority. Our vaccine-producing mechanisms have been beefed up and, as many now realise that the intensive animal farming needed to supply the huge amounts of meat we consume drives the conditions that create super viruses, our diets may be beefed down.
We are learning more about how all viruses can affect the body, answering questions that have never before been deemed worthy of resource allocation, such as performing studies on their long-term effects; a previously neglected area of research. And as 2020 became the first year that all of us meticulously recorded our viral wellbeing, I realised that in spite of having two fetid disease vectors at home (in the form of my young kids), my wife and I were sick only once in the whole year.
To feel hope does not imply that one must ignore the severity of the situation we are still in, but all the things we have missed are within reach, and far sooner than I thought possible. Reunited families, group dinners and hugs are no longer a far-off dream. Most predictions this time last year estimated that it would take 18-24 months for a vaccine to even be ready, and yet we have had three within a year, with several more on the way. While some seek to depict the speed at which vaccines have been developed as evidence of corners cut, the reality is that the millilitre of fluid in my left arm is the culmination of the greatest collaborative scientific achievement for half a century.