Randi Kreiss

Year of wonder, one Thanksgiving to the next

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Last Thanksgiving we dined alone. I’m remembering an over-roasted turkey leg with a side of anxiety for me, a wedge of spinach pie for the vegetarian, hold the Thanksgiving cheer. We tried not to make too much of the day.
We were veterans of isolation by then, still months away from our first vaccine. To see our kids and grandkids, someone would have had to risk flying, and the infection rates were daunting. Nevertheless, we watched millions of people choosing to travel, weaving through airport lines and hoping for the best. Spikes and surges followed.
Sorry for the ruminating, but sometimes you must go back to appreciate how far you’ve come. A few months after Thanksgiving, our son and grandson caught Covid. We missed birthdays, anniversaries, proms and graduations. We were lucky; the nightly news featured Covid crises cascading across the country. Who will ever forget the pictures of refrigerator trucks parked outside New York City hospitals?
Today (and I won’t say fast forward, because it wasn’t), all of us have had vaccines and boosters. We’re all back to our jobs. Kids are back in school. As I swayed from despair to hope and back to trepidation, I coped, and that feels like enough.
This Thanksgiving we will sit down with our family to start reweaving the ties that have stretched thin over the months of this pandemic.

I have often written about gratitude for the small things that charge our days with interest and pleasure. This year my gratitude is singular, profound and unending. I am so thankful to the researchers and scientists and companies and governments and leaders who took on the virus and dug in for the fight.
There were missteps and political machinations and failures along the way, but the development of vaccines, 90-plus percent effective, in only 11 months has been the stunning achievement of our lifetime.
When we encountered a novel coronavirus transmitted easily through the air by breathing, talking and coughing, the World Health Organization said it did not expect a vaccine to become available in fewer than 18 months. Many virologists have said that the development of a safe and effective vaccine within 11 months was an extraordinary achievement.
Please read “A Shot to Save the World,” by Gregory Zuckerman. Zuckerman tells the story of the unlikely heroes who worked together and separately, driven by the mission to find a vaccine. He describes the false starts and missteps, but also all that went right as researchers took on the challenge of their lives. It required unprecedented devotion, selflessness, fierce dedication to the job and a vision of success that transcended any one person’s ambition.
It is a thrilling story. One of the salient points Zuckerman addresses is the idea that the new vaccines are too “experimental.” He says these discoveries are not one-day wonders, but blocks of research that came together over many years. They found daylight in the time of the pandemic because of the money and dedication and leadership that supported the effort. The work on AIDS informed this medical moon shot, and the Covid vaccines will inform research going forward.
Zuckerman tells the story of Jason Schrum, the Moderna scientist who had worked at the company for only a short time. He came up with the actual modification to the mRNA molecule that is currently used in Moderna’s vaccine, Zuckerman writes. “That modification is the one that BioNTech uses also. It’s not the one from Katalin Karaka and Drew Weissman at the University of Pennsylvania. They’re really pioneers, and I’m not sure we would have these vaccines without them.”
Zuckerman writes that not enough attention has been paid to the Chinese scientist who struggled in the early days of the pandemic to share the genetic sequence of the virus. “The guy’s a hero,” he writes. “He risked so much . . .”
I thank them all, from the doctors and nurses to the supermarket workers to the teachers and parents of young children, to the bench researchers who put in the hours, day after day and month after month.
This year at our Thanksgiving, there will be a too-big turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce. Leaves and grains for the vegetarian. We will hug and kiss our kids and grandkids, feeling safe enough with our jabs and boosters. Then we will feast on my apple cranberry crumble with a topping of gratitude for this country and countries everywhere where scientists are educated, supported and honored for their work.

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.

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