The Last Yard
The last yard in football is always the hardest. Facing a wall of resistance, players often slam headlong into it hoping for a good result. Creativity, unexpected plays, and imaginative routes are not part of the football psyche.
The last yard before a solution to the COVID-19 pandemic need not be the same story.
The vaccination of the population is the goal line. The path to getting there will be filled with barriers, many of them predictable. A few people will have a seriously bad reaction; a very few might even die from the vaccine. One cannot inject hundreds of millions of humans without seeing some negative events. In general, though, serious vaccine reactions occur within the first six weeks and none have occurred so far in the tens of thousands of people tested.
The vaccine’s distribution process will have pockets of corruption and self-dealing. We smirked when professional sports teams were getting COVID tests at a time when few other people could. It’s not hard to imagine that celebrities, political figures, and hospital executives might jump the queue to have the cure.
Fraudulent vials of hope will be sold on the Internet. Airlines may force people to prove they have been vaccinated—but how will that proof be shown? By QR codes on our phones, tattoos on our bodies, on-the-spot testing to prove immunity? All along the way, we will see moments of ill will and disingenuous displays.
The press and the naysayers will raise a storm of alarm over each of these problems, further sowing doubt in those primed to say, “I told you so.” They will promote the harrowing unlikely possibility that the first responders and critical medical personnel who are first in line to be immunized will ultimately discover that the vaccine leads to disabling neurologic disease. (While this outcome is extremely unlikely, it would of course be devastating to the world’s entire health care system if it occurred.)
The defense against these scenarios is a strong creative offense. A variety of vaccines, from different manufacturers with different mechanisms of action, may protect against some of the potential failures. An effective political and scientific leadership program that lays the groundwork today and stands poised to respond to any surprises will keep the game going. And an open-source data repository of all positive and negative outcomes, freely available for evaluation by the global scientific community, will allay fears that commercial interests are hiding the vaccines’ problems. Such a data repository has never before been assembled for a drug or therapy—but it must be created now.
We are all hoping for that quarterback sneak at the last yard, taking us over the goal line to the victory party we so desperately crave. Yet the gods of unexpected outcomes swirl above the fray, and one of them will may well succeed in disrupting our best-laid plans. Only resilience, creativity, and imagination will help the home team break through the barriers of the last yard. Let’s emulate the announcers of European football to proclaim, at the appropriate time, our victory: “SCOOOOORRRRE!”