This year is practically done for. And 2021 will be the year of a transition to the new normal. That's why 2022 seems more realistic for remaking our lives: touching, kissing and hugging without fear.
Before you get depressed, let's not forget that this week we received the most hopeful news since the start of the pandemic. The Moderna Pharmaceutical Co. announced that its experimental coronavirus vaccine had positive results on eight persons.
The vaccine appears to be safe, and created immunity to the infection. A second phase with 600 people will begin soon, and thousands will be added in July. If everything goes well, according to the company, it may have a vaccine available for massive use by the end of this year or early 2021.
If everything goes well …
These time lines coincide with the plans of President Donald Trump, who just unveiled a special White House team in charge of finding a vaccine quickly. Quickly for Trump is January of 2021. “We're looking for a full vaccine for everyone that wants to get it,” Trump said, confirming the date.
The problem is that producing a good vaccine, safe and effective, usually takes much longer. Before Moderna's announcement, I interviewed two vaccine experts.
“From the time a clinical trial starts until it's known that a vaccine really works, and does not cause adverse effects, it takes at least one year,” said Dr. Adolfo García Sastre, a professor at the school of medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and one of the world's leading flu specialists.
“That cannot be accelerated too much because we have to be certain that the vaccine really works. The only way of doing that is to track the people who have been vaccinated and make sure they protected from an infection. And that takes time.”
A lot of time. More than we want to hear about.
“If everything goes well, we'll have a vaccine for use in public health in 18 months,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, a leading AIDS and vaccines researcher at the Emory University school of medicine, told me. “Regretfully, clinical research is slow. But it has to be done that way. We also don't want a vaccine that does not work or can cause death and other damage.”
Producing a vaccine and distributing one or two doses for the nearly 8 billion people on the planet is a gigantic task. And more so if we try to do it in less than one year. For geographic and economic reasons, many will not be able to receive the vaccine. And many more will not want it for personal, religious or ideological reasons. This will inevitably leave us with a world that is only semi-vaccinated and exposed to recurrent outbreaks of coronavirus during the colder seasons.
“The ultimate weapon against a resurgence is the vaccine,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top White House adviser on the virus, told the New York Times.
That's why we might not have our world back until 2022.
“The ultimate solution – the only thing that really lets us go back completely to normal and feel good about sitting in a stadium with lots of other people is to create a vaccine," Microsoft founder Bill Gates said in an interview with Trevor Noah. "And not just take care of our country, but take that vaccine out to the global population so that we have vast immunity," he added.
We're still a long way from that scenario. These days, millions of us around the world are returning to the street, to the offices, to the stores, to barber shops and to consider, from afar, whether we should go into a restaurant. We're doing it carefully, and with fear. With face masks and mentally measuring those six feet or two meters that should keep us safe. It is, definitely, not the life we want after weeks or months of isolation. It tastes like too little.
“When will all this end?” That's the most frequent question I hear. The only thing I know is that this will run long. Without available vaccines or treatment, our lives will remain on hold. Normalcy and hugs? The year 2022 seems to be more realistic. As Fauci said so wisely, “You don't make the time line, the virus makes the time line.”