Thanksgiving is possible this year due to Covid-19 vaccines

Hundreds of millions of Americans will gather on Thursday to watch football, catch up with family and friends, and eat themselves in a food coma — and it will be a miracle.

A year ago, a return to traditional Thanksgiving celebrations seemed unimaginable. Covid-19 was still raging across the country. Vaccines had been developed, but no Americans had received them. The day after Thanksgiving 2020, about 160,000 Covid-19 cases were reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was a time with nearly 100,000 Covid-related hospital admissions and more than 1,500 Americans die every day.

The advances made in vaccination are one of the most extraordinary achievements in human history.

Then, on December 14, Sandra Lindsay became one of the first Americans outside of a clinical trial to receive a coronavirus vaccine, and everything changed. Since then, more than 231 million people in the US have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 80 percent of Americans ages 12 and older have received at least one dose, and more than 69 percent have been fully vaccinated. Of those over 65, the age group most vulnerable to the ravages of Covid, more than 99 percent have received at least one dose.

Americans who refuse to be vaccinated continue to get sick and die. Every death is an unnecessary tragedy. But the advances made in vaccines are one of the most extraordinary achievements in human history.

Of course, these developments are not just happening in the United States.

In less than a year, 7.78 billion doses of Covid vaccines have been distributed, and an astonishing 3.32 billion people worldwide are fully vaccinated.

China only gave full approval to a Covid vaccine on December 30. But recently it reported that more than 1 billion of its citizens have been fully vaccinated. India is in second place, with about 412 million fully vaccinated people. However, that number represents only about 30 percent of the population, which is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done to ensure that everyone on the planet has the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.

We may never know how many lives the vaccines have saved, but the figure would likely run into the millions.

As Christopher Nichols, a historian at Oregon State University who… written about past pandemics, told me, “I can’t think of a truly comparable world-historic event of the likely impact and importation of the 2020-21 global race for effective Covid-19 vaccines and manufacturing and distribution to get so many shots in the arms so quickly.”

According to Nichols, “the vaccination and distribution race probably saved us all from a pandemic that is much closer to the 1918 flu pandemic, where a much smaller world population had an estimated 50 million deaths.”

We may never know how many lives the vaccines have saved, but the figure would likely run into the millions.

What is perhaps even more extraordinary than the numbers we see is the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. No major or minor side effects are reported in significant numbers. In addition, the vaccines are extremely successful.

Covid deaths among vaccinated people are disappearing rare. A person who has been vaccinated is about: 14 times less likely to die from Covid than someone who doesn’t.

At the moment, even as the number of Covid cases increases, hospitalizations and deaths remain low. For example, in New Jersey, cases have increased by 66 percent in the past two weeks, but the number of hospitalizations in the state is around 830, about five times lower than in January.

With the increase in protection, our lives are slowly but surely returning to normal. Kids are back at school; students are back on campus; even workplaces are being repopulated. Normal life rhythms return.

Travel opens like the US travel ban to Europe has been lifted, and even New Zealand, which had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, is preparing to allow tourists to return.

Professional hockey and basketball teams have played more than 550 games in indoor arenas for an estimated 8 million fans. There have been almost three months of professional and college football. Tens of thousands of concerts and plays have taken place. There are virtually no reports of it being a super spreader event.

All this is made possible by the vaccines.

As if that weren’t enough, we seem to be getting closer to a therapeutic treatment for Covid. Earlier this month, Pfizer has applied for emergency approval for a Covid treatment pill that the company said it could reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent in people at high risk for serious illness.

In the immortal words of Jesse Pinkman:Yes, science!

Of course, despite all the progress that has been made, there are still tens of millions of people in the United States who refuse to get the injection. Their actions are prolonging the pandemic and contributing to Covid spikes. Worst of all, about a thousand people still die every day. In addition, about half of the people in the world remain unvaccinated. New efforts should be made in the coming year to ensure that everyone has access to a vaccine.

But the progress we’ve made suggests we can get there — and we shouldn’t be distracted by the ignorant contingent. Billions of people around the world have struggled and suffered, but most have done their part. They wore masks, were socially distant and showed empathy, decency and resilience in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime global plague. When it came time to get vaccinated, billions sprang into action. It’s a hopeful reminder of our shared humanity, regardless of our differences.

If we meet this week, that’s reason enough to give thanks.

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