We Had the Vaccine the Whole Time

David Wallace-Wells writes:

You may be surprised to learn that of the trio of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines, the most promising, Moderna’s mRNA-1273, which reported a 94.5 percent efficacy rate on November 16, had been designed by January 13. This was just two days after the genetic sequence had been made public in an act of scientific and humanitarian generosity that resulted in China’s Yong-Zhen Zhang’s being temporarily forced out of his lab. In Massachusetts, the Moderna vaccine design took all of one weekend. It was completed before China had even acknowledged that the disease could be transmitted from human to human, more than a week before the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States. By the time the first American death was announced a month later, the vaccine had already been manufactured and shipped to the National Institutes of Health for the beginning of its Phase I clinical trial. This is — as the country and the world are rightly celebrating — the fastest timeline of development in the history of vaccines. It also means that for the entire span of the pandemic in this country, which has already killed more than 250,000 Americans, we had the tools we needed to prevent it.

…as early as July the MIT Technology Review reported that a group of 70 scientists in the orbit of Harvard and MIT, including “celebrity geneticist” George Church, were taking a totally DIY nasal-spray vaccine, never even intended to be tested, and developed by a personal genomics entrepreneur named Preston Estep (also the author of a self-help-slash-life-extension book called The Mindspan Diet). China began administering a vaccine to its military in June. Russia approved its version in August.

…McKeown hypothesis — that medical interventions tend to play only a small role compared to public-health measures, socioeconomic advances, and the natural dynamics of the disease as it spreads through a population.

* But in September, we opened bars and restaurants and gyms, inviting pandemic spread even as we knew the seasonality of the disease would make everything much riskier in the fall. The whole time, we also knew that the Moderna vaccine was essentially safe. We were just waiting to know for sure that it worked, too.

None of the scientists I spoke to for this story were at all surprised by either outcome — all said they expected the vaccines were safe and effective all along.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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