Thursday, February 18, 2021

The End of the Beginning

In 1942, after the second Battle of El Alamein, Winston Churchill famously said: "Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." I thought of Churchill's words this morning as I gratefully received my second Pfizer anti-covid-19 vaccination shot. 

Like most people my age, as a child I suffered through measles, mumps, and chicken pox - serious but then routine childhood diseases that children today are fortunate to have the opportunity to escape thanks to vaccinations. I was a child at the time of the last polio epidemic, and mine was the first generation to receive first the Salk and then the Sabin polio vaccines. And, of course, we were all vaccinated as infants against the scourge of smallpox. When I travelled to Europe for the first time in 1970, it was still required to carry with one's passport a yellow document attesting that one had been duly vaccinated against smallpox. (Will such a regime be re-instituted now for Covid?) I got my first of many annual flu shots in 1967. I have been vaccinated against pneumonia, and I eagerly got the new Shingles vaccine a couple of yers ago. So I guess I am a big fan of vaccines! What sensible person wouldn't be?

The difference vaccines have made in human history is monumental. Vaccines have saved millions of lives and removed once routine fears from people's daily experience. Obviously, that is also what we are expecting - or at least hoping for - from this new covid vaccine.

What will the post-vaccine "normal" come to look like? 

Of course, we all want to go out and about again, to visit and socialize. I haven't been to a restaurant since March 7. Even more, I miss going to movies. And, while I don't really miss flying across the country, I very much miss seeing my family on the other side of the continent. Like so many others, I look forward to rediscovering some of those simple pleasures that enrich ordinary life. 

An epidemic also unveils the inadequacies and inequities in a society. Clearly covid-19 has done that - on the one hand, highlighting our shared common condition and interdependence, but, on the other, demonstrating how differently individuals and groups have experienced this ostensibly common but very unequally shared burden of suffering and death, dislocation, isolation, and impoverishment. 

A hundred years ago, the great influenza pandemic receded into the "roaring twenties." Unaddressed and unresolved, American society's underlying inadequacies and inequities exploded in the Great Depression. In the face of another catastrophic crisis, are there opportunities to respond differently?

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