A Vaccine for the Return to Normal Life
October 27, 2020
Since the arrival of the Covid-19 virus on these shores, it has generally been understood that the development most likely to let us put it behind us is the development of a safe and effective vaccine.
At the same time there has been a lingering note of concern in the media, that a public grown suspicious of many things, from the political establishment to the work of a wide range of large institutions.
If the voters with whom I spoke last week in Pittsburgh last week are any indication, those fears may be overblown.
Only one hinted at reservations she had once held: “I was afraid Donald Trump was going to rush something through that wasn’t safe just to score some points in the election,” before pointing out that with only days left before the election the time for that had clearly passed.
More common, at least a few miles from the University of Pittsburgh campus, were recollections of the polio vaccine developed there by Jonas Salk. This group, mostly in their fifties and sixties, were all vaccinated against polio as children, but every one of them had parents who recalled the dread of polio that shaped their own childhood summers in the forties and fifties.
Edith, a lifelong resident of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh’s East End, added a note that might be unique to Pittsburgh. To the schoolchildren of the sixties and seventies in Pittsburgh, the scientific breakthrough of Doctor Salk was explained as both an extraordinary triumph of research and as a reason for regional pride.
Beyond memories of Jonas Salk—who unquestionably is among the last to oversee a major research breakthrough largely on his own—the sentiment I heard most was that a vaccine, when it comes, will allow a return to normal life. Sam, perhaps a bit older than the others, grumbled that he would like to see his grandchildren next year without worrying, while others expressed hopes for things as simple as a night at the movies, a leisurely meal in a restaurant, or in one case a Hadassah meeting not conducted on Zoom.
To this group, at least, reluctance to take a vaccine was dismissed as something limited to, in Sara’s biting phrase, of “people who have too much time to spend on the Internet and not enough smarts to tune out crazy things.” That aside, the consensus for this group was pretty clear: that we will be well into next year before a vaccine is available, and that they would be among the first to schedule an appointment to receive it.