Thursday , January 21 2021
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Reasons for optimism — Vaccines

Summary:
For most people 2020 was a terrible year. The coronavirus pandemic, the excess deaths, and the economic shutdowns made it so. For some it made the future seem bleak, because the vast borrowing governments undertook to help alleviate the hardships caused by the containment has left a vast overhang of indebtedness that must somehow be addressed, and might constitute a burden that will hold back future generations.Yet for science 2020 was a good year. There were the SpaceX launches of their Falcon rockets and Dragon vehicles. There were major discoveries by archaeologists and paleontologists. Biochemical engineers created new enzymes that can break down plastic bottles within days. Other successful space launches included the Solar Orbiter and NASA’s new Perseverance Mars rover. China

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For most people 2020 was a terrible year. The coronavirus pandemic, the excess deaths, and the economic shutdowns made it so. For some it made the future seem bleak, because the vast borrowing governments undertook to help alleviate the hardships caused by the containment has left a vast overhang of indebtedness that must somehow be addressed, and might constitute a burden that will hold back future generations.

Yet for science 2020 was a good year. There were the SpaceX launches of their Falcon rockets and Dragon vehicles. There were major discoveries by archaeologists and paleontologists. Biochemical engineers created new enzymes that can break down plastic bottles within days. Other successful space launches included the Solar Orbiter and NASA’s new Perseverance Mars rover. China executed a moon landing to return lunar rocks to Earth, while Japan brought back samples from an asteroid.

The big scientific event of the year, however, must be the fast-track development of innovative vaccines to combat the coronavirus by giving immunity to recipients. A process of development and testing that normally takes five to ten years was completed for several vaccines within a single year. Messenger RNA vaccines, as well as more conventional ones, were able to be developed very quickly, and proved cheap to make and mass produce.

Innovations in vaccine technology bring the prospect of eliminating some of the ancient scourges of humankind, and give humanity the edge in rapidly responding to new threats that come along. It took centuries to render smallpox extinct, and we are now on the threshold of doing the same for poliomyelitis, after which will come malaria.

That we have shown the ability to achieve a rapid response to a most dangerous threat is a sure ground for being optimistic about our ability to do so in future. The experience of the covid pandemic has sharpened our response should it be needed again. We will never render human beings disease free, but we can respond to diseases with an ever-increasing array of tools with which to combat them.

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