The coronavirus has shaken the world. It has brought us worry, fear and helplessness. While sheltering in place, we have been searching for a better understanding of the virus, and anxious about prospects for resolution. These concerns have heightened our need for leadership, guidance and a clear sense of direction, as we seek control of our future. As we have struggled to understand the coronavirus, we have been bombarded with more prognostication and analysis than we can absorb. The noise has been overwhelming.
And it’s hard to separate fact from fiction, or to discern the scientific bona fides of one set of opinions or test results from another. Our news feeds have become an unregulated breeding ground for conspiracy theories, finger pointing and other assignments of blame, and it is increasingly difficult to get an authoritative answer to many pandemic-related questions. At the same time, our political polarization has eroded trust and paralyzed much of our ability to develop coherent solutions.
As the U.S. death toll nears 100,000, the medical community is under increasing pressure to find a cure for COVID-19, while the public is losing faith that science will be able to deliver quickly.
It usually takes five to 10 years to develop a new vaccine. But early estimates told us we would only need 12 to 18 months to develop a COVID-19 cure. Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s top infectious disease expert, said it was “possible” a vaccine could be ready by January — although he was quick to warn that his projection was far from certain.
America is impatient. We have been in lockdown for months. Jobs have evaporated for tens of millions of people. Our economy is in turmoil. And we are concerned about the efficacy of our national response to the pandemic. In these circumstances, any wait seems too long.
There are reported to be 100 vaccines in development around the world. But there is concern that the competition to beat the clock will cause many to cut corners. For instance, the biotech firm Moderna recently announced data from a human trial of its COVID-19 vaccine before publishing them for peer review. Other labs have skipped animal testing. Such short cuts can be problematic. Other untested “cures” for COVID-19 — even those touted by political leaders — can raise false hopes and endanger lives.
In times of crisis, we search for answers. Unfortunately, the responses from those who know seem hesitant, while the charlatans radiate confidence. And in times of political polarization like the one we are experiencing, the credibility divide is widened. We need to take a deep breath and ignore the conspiracy theories, finger pointing, bloated rhetoric, and promises of miracle cures. We need to let the scientists do their work — with no artificial deadlines. They will get there. But we need to let them do it by the book.