A rational hope for 2021
On New Year’ Eve I was looking for a rational reason for hope in 2021. With respect, I did not find it in I. Rice’s cartoon referencing the “low bar” set by 2020. I did however find it in an article entitled “The Great Project” published by the Guardian Weekly (18/12/20), in which Ian Sample, the newspaper’s science editor, writes, “Unprecedented global collaboration by scientists sharing data and funding has created working vaccines and may have changed the way the science of medical research works for ever.” That’s promising, I thought, so if you will allow, I’ll summarize his case.
On Jan. 5, 2020, a Chinese professor sequenced the code of the Wuhan outbreak. On Jan. 12, he shared it with an Australian colleague and despite an embargo on doing so, they published the information.
Two days later, the U.S. National Institutes of Health partnered with Moderna to design a vaccine. Oxford University and the German firm of BioNTech were also quick off the mark. The World Health Organization swung into action and scientists who had been working on earlier coronaviruses hit the ground running.
Very quickly, we had answers to key questions about COVID-19, such as how it spread, what its symptoms are, who was most infectious and its replication rate. In June, claims for hydroxychloroquine as a cure were refuted but a cheap and widely available steroid, dexamethasone, was found to significantly reduce the number of deaths amongst hospitalized patients. Late in the year, three highly effective vaccines came on the market, one so cheap as to address the question of cost to impoverished nations.
Yes, there have been gaffes and stumbles along the way, mainly in defining and implementing public policy, not to mention scepticism from unexpected quarters, such as the White House. But the achievements of medical science in relation to the coronavirus have been amazing and unprecedented. As one researcher has said, “In the last 11 months, probably 10 year’s work has been done”, and another that, “A lot of what has happened (in 2020) are things that people would have said are not possible… It will be hard for scepticism to carry the day in the future.”
These, I submit, are grounds for a rational hope in the New Year.