By MARSHA MERCER
It was the shot seen round the world.
At 6:31 a.m. Tuesday, a 90-year-old grandmother in England named Maggie Keenan became the first person in the United Kingdom to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Days from her 91st birthday, Keenan said it was a “privilege” to be first and urged others skeptical about being jabbed to “go for it.”
“V-Day” is coming soon to the United States. The federal government says 20 million Americans could be vaccinated against COVID in the next several weeks.
Suddenly, people everywhere feel the flicker of an emotion as scarce as toilet paper last March: hope.
Life approaching normalcy could return next year. It won’t be as soon as anyone would like. We know the corner is ahead, but, despite the fantasy talk you’ve heard, we’re far from turning it yet.
COVID-19 just became the number one killer of Americans. More than 15 million in the United States have been infected with the novel coronavirus, more than 288,000 have died and thousands more face debilitating effects of the disease lasting months.
President-elect Joe Biden injected a dose of reality to the pandemic Tuesday when he announced his healthcare team and three-point plan for fighting COVID-19.
“My first 100 days won’t end the COVID-19 virus. I can’t promise that,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”
Biden’s first priority will be for all Americans to wear masks during his administration’s first 100 days. He’ll require mask-wearing in federal buildings and during interstate travel on planes, trains and buses and work with governors and mayors on state and local mask requirements.
Wearing a mask can reduce cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but it will take more than edicts from the White House, statehouses and city halls to make masking universal. It will take all of us choosing to believe in science – or at least in our family, friends, community and country.
A mask “is not a political statement. It’s a patriotic act. It won’t be the end of our efforts, but it’s a necessary and easy beginning, an easy start,” Biden said.
It’s truly great news three effective vaccines are in the pipeline. Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are expected to gain FDA approval and begin distribution this month with AstraZeneca’s vaccine close behind, but massive logistical challenges loom.
Only a limited amount of vaccine likely will be available in the beginning and, after an initial round, vaccinations could slow and stall, delaying millions from receiving shots for months.
The cold-storage and transportation requirements are daunting. Only some hospitals, typically not clinics or doctors’ offices, have the necessary storage capacity.
Biden’s second priority is a goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots a few weeks apart to be effective, so that would mean about 50 million people could be protected.
First in line will be those most at risk -- healthcare professionals and people living in long-term care facilities.
Biden’s third priority is to open a majority of American schools by the end of his first 100 days, so educators will be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Success for his plan depends on several factors, including where distribution stands when he takes office Jan. 20. He called on Congress to provide funding to ensure vaccines reach all parts of the country and for public health measures in schools to safeguard students, teachers and staff.
Success also depends on persuading large numbers of Americans to shrug off fear and misinformation and take the vaccine. We’re likely to see celebrities baring their arms for the cause.
Biden isn’t sugarcoating the situation. Vaccine distribution will be “one of the hardest and most costly operational challenges in our nation’s history,” he said.
“All I can tell you is the truth. We’re in a very dark winter; things may well get worse before they get better.”
But Biden also exhibits calm, competence and confidence that are refreshing and reassuring. When he uses the pronoun “we,” which he does a lot, he means all of us.
“We know that we can overcome and heal together as one nation,” he said. “We can do this.”
© 2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.