‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?”
– Jeremiah 8:22
There’s a scene in the 2011 movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” that reminds me of how some view the recently approved COVID-19 vaccine.
It’s a mid-credits scene, and in it (spoiler alert), a commercial pilot who has been infected with a virus caused by a failed cure for Alzheimer’s disease heads to the San Francisco International Airport for a flight to Paris. A map is shown tracking his flight with a red line, then multiple flights that leave Paris after he lands, and before long, the whole globe is covered in red representing the spread of a virus that wipes out most of humanity.
Some seem to have that kind of apocalyptic, end-of-the-world mindset about the COVID-19 vaccine, that’s it going to bring on a zombie apocalypse or the collapse of civilization. (Perhaps we watch way too many disaster movies.)
It’s likely that people felt similarly (since some still do) when Drs. Thomas Francis Jr. and Jonas Salk helped develop the first flu vaccine. It was approved for military use first in 1944 (since one out of approximately every 67 soldiers had died from the Spanish flu during the 1918 pandemic) and then for public use the next year, according to fortune.com. (The Spanish flu had caused more than 50 million deaths worldwide, according to some sources.)
Research shows that influenza death rates declined sharply around the end of World War II. During the 2019-20 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that “7.5 million influenza illnesses, 3.7 million influenza-associated medical visits, 105,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations and 6,300 influenza-associated deaths” were prevented by vaccinations.
That doesn’t mean the vaccine was perfected when it was first administered or even has been yet. The same goes for the COVID-19 vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine was approved as quickly as possible, so there’s a lot we don’t know yet. We do know that some of those who have received it so far have had severe allergic reactions to it, so there’s a need for some caution.
However, one reason those in the medical field like Unity Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Roddy Lochala lined up to receive the vaccine Tuesday was to show that “they trust the data and what it has gone through.” They want the community to not be scared to take it.
They understand that the vaccine is not going to cause a scene like the one at the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Instead, that is what we’ve seen with COVID-19 itself. It was first reported in the Wuhan, Hubei province of China in early January, then a case was confirmed in Thailand. By the end of January, the World Health Organization reported 7,818 cases (mostly in China), with 82 of those reported in 18 countries outside of China.
Now, we’ve had more than 75 million cases worldwide and more than 1.6 million deaths with no signs of the spread of COVID-19 slowing down, especially in our country. That doesn’t mean that without a vaccine we would have an apocalypse (partially since it doesn’t kill most of those who get infected), but to have any hope of returning to normal, we have to have a vaccine.
If you look at the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 map, it looks a lot like that map at the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” There’s nothing wrong with having some reservations about the vaccine that’s been approved, but we should have greater concerns about what COVID-19 will continue to do without it.