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  • Jan Flynn

If You Thought the Election Made Americans Crazy

Just wait until the COVID vaccine rolls out

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The end may be in sight — if you’re farsighted

As Americans hunker down for what we’re warned will be a dark winter, a prediction that’s already coming true with a horrifying spike in both COVID cases and the concurrent death toll — we do what we can to preserve a kernel of holiday cheer. Meanwhile, we peer into the dim tunnel of the near future, looking for light at its end.

After nine months of slogging through a pandemic featuring whipsawing lockdowns and reopenings, ever-changing guidelines and, absent any coherent top-down coordination, a scattershot of localized responses based largely on the political convictions of governors and county officials, our tolerance for frustration is at its lowest ebb. Even if we or our loved ones have so far escaped COVID infection, we’ve about had it. We need this to be over.

The good news is, the light is out there, and it’s brightening, if not yet steady. The news of two vaccines, Pfizer’s and Moderna’s, just inches away from approval and a possible third from AstraZeneca not far behind, is cause for real hope. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and resolve that these vaccines have gotten to this point so quickly — far faster than any previous vaccine for a novel virus. And the evidence of effectiveness, at least for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, is far beyond what many experts even dared to hope.

But don’t send out the invitations to your New Years Eve bash

If you’re with me so far, you are evidently among the subset of Americans who (a) admits that COVID-19 is real, and (b) accepts that vaccines, properly researched, tested, and administered, are a tool of public health rather than a tool of Satan. You see wearing a mask as a responsible, evidence-based precaution rather than a threat to your freedom.

And while you’d really, really like to get the whole gang together for a good old-fashioned Christmas, or Hanukah, or Kwanzaa, or whatever, you’ve resigned yourself to waiting until next year — because you really want to be around for the 2021 holiday season, and you want the same for your whole beloved crew. Unfortunately, it might not be until Independence Day that we can toss our masks and have that hug fest we all crave.

Even in the rosiest scenario for how soon any Americans can get The Shot (or shots — you’ll probably need two of them, several weeks apart), those of us in the highest risk categories might be vaccinated by mid-March, and everybody else by “May or June.” That’s according to Dr. Monclef Slaoui, the chief science advisor of Operation Warp Speed. This assumes that all the multiple moving parts in manufacturing, storing, and shipping doses line up in perfect order, to say nothing of the dizzying logistics of distribution and implementation.

Joe Biden, who has every reason in the world to want to bring the COVID crisis to a swift and conclusive end, is not quite so sanguine. He cautioned that there is:

While I cheer the innovators at Pfizer, Moderna, and other firms, based on the current administration’s handling of the pandemic to date, I’m taking Mr. Biden’s grain of salt on this one.

Vaccine distribution is complex. Americans don’t like complex

The loose cannon in all of the coming drama surrounding the vaccine rollout is, well, us. The human factor. Look what it has taken to get a majority of us to consistently wear facemasks outside our homes; now imagine the challenge of pushing out clear and reliable messaging around who can get the vaccine, and when, and how.

Given that the availability of doses will be limited until manufacturing can ramp up to, excuse me, warp speed, somebody has to decide who’s first in line. Nursing home residents? Essential workers? You and the people you love and worry about? In the initial months at least, state officials will face Salomonic choices. Abby Goodnough and Jan Hoffman’s recent piece in the New York Times(“The Elderly vs. Essential Workers: Who Should Get the Coronavirus Vaccine First?” Dec. 5) lays out a chilling calculation:

Ultimately, the choice comes down to whether preventing death or curbing the spread of the virus and returning to some semblance of normalcy is the highest priority.

The C.D.C. is formulating its recommendations (which, given that its current head and advisory committee are Trump appointees, may well skew toward the grocers-over-Grandma side of the equation), but states will have to decide for themselves. One thing is sure: no decisions will please everyone, or will escape scathing criticism.

Once the social media machine gets hold of this kind of drama, the leap from criticism to suspicion to raging conspiracy theories will be a mere hop. And rabid politicization, if it hasn’t set in already, will take hold with a vengeance.

The vaccine program will be under an attack of irrationality

All it took was for the Obama administration to mention the concept of controlling medical expenses through prioritizing certain procedures for Sarah Palin to start shrieking about “death panels.” Imagine the level of hysteria we can look forward to when people get their minds around the fact that they can’t get their shots because someone from a different group — one whom they see as less deserving than themselves — is ahead of them in line.

Now imagine what happens when the rumors of adverse effects infect cyberspace, and become a rallying cry for those who delight in their alleged victimization. We already have a swath of Americans — small, to be sure, but loud enough to gain traction and even a nod from the Current Occupant — who are convinced that our greatest threat as a nation is from a deep state of Democratic pedophiles.

Who knows if there is any lower limit on American lunacy? We may be about to find out.

Make your New Year resolutions now

It’s going to get wilder and crazier before it gets any calmer. Just know that, and don’t let it throw you. Resolve now to shut out the noise and focus on the rational, the hopeful, and the positive.

Do whatever you can this holiday season to protect yourself and those you love, while keeping your spirits (at least somewhat) merry and bright. Pat yourself on the back for doing what it takes to get through a hard time. Look ahead to better days, because if enough of us stay the course, they are indeed coming.

Get in line. Wait your turn. Get your shots. Let’s all party on July 4.

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