DANIEL VAUGHAN: It’s time to celebrate American greatness in ending the pandemic

Our country should be celebrating the end of a pandemic. Yes, we should remember those lost and the tremendous strain COVID-19 has produced on our health care system, our lives, and our way of life.

But the end is near: America’s greatness, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies have delivered miraculous cures in historic time. We should be celebrating, but public health officials refuse to acknowledge reality.

Nearly 68 years ago, in 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk went on a national radio show to announce he had “successfully tested a vaccine against poliomyelitis,” otherwise known as polio.

Salk’s announcement came before test trials or anything of that nature. He’d spent the better part of his life, from the 1930s forward, developing the novel concept of a vaccine.

When word came out two years later that Salk’s vaccine worked and prevented polio, massive celebrations reverberated across the United States. Dr. David M. Oshinsky, a historian, recalls the day:

Word that the Salk vaccine was successful set off one of the greatest celebrations in modern American history. The date was April 12, 1955 — the announcement came from Ann Arbor, Mich. Church bells tolled, factory whistles blew. People ran into the streets weeping. President Eisenhower invited Jonas Salk to the White House, where he choked up while thanking Salk for saving the world’s children — an iconic moment, the height of America’s faith in research and science. Vaccines became a natural part of pediatric care.

When the United States moved from ensuring its children no longer had to fear polio and shifted toward eradicating the disease across the globe in 1988, it did so thoroughly. There were approximately 350,000 cases of people paralyzed by polio in 1988. In 2014, there were only 359 cases of polio across the world.

The Salk vaccine rollout was far from perfect. The worst moment was “when more than 200,000 people were injected with a defective vaccine manufactured at Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, California. Thousands of polio cases were reported, 200 children were left paralyzed and 10 died,” according to History.com.

Americans still recognized the benefits of the vaccine, however, and they celebrated the eradication of a lethal disease to children.

We should be doing the same thing with the COVID-19 vaccines, because what we’ve done on this front is nothing short of a miracle.

Salk worked on his polio vaccine for decades. In less than a year, the United States encountered a novel pandemic virus, acted swiftly to contain that virus, and produced at the time of this column three viable vaccines. And the U.S. is administering those vaccines at rocket speed to its entire population.

Pfizer and Moderna giving us back-to-back vaccines was cause for praise alone. Johnson & Johnson joining the fray and giving the United States a third vaccine should make everyone run out and celebrate like it’s V-Day all over again.

A Harvard Medical blog put it like this:

Within minutes, scientists 10,000 miles away began working on the design of an mRNA vaccine. Within weeks, they had made enough vaccine to test it in animals, and then in people. Just 11 months after the discovery of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, regulators in the United Kingdom and the US confirmed that an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 is effective and safely tolerated, paving the path to widespread immunization. Previously, no new vaccine had been developed in less than four years.

Can you imagine waiting more than four years for a vaccine cure in this pandemic? Johns Hopkins University says that “a typical vaccine development timeline takes 5 to 10 years, and sometimes longer.”

We’ve gone from a novel virus creating a pandemic to now more than 75 million Americans have received at least one dose of the cure in less than a year. More people have received a dose of the vaccine than have had the virus in America.

If that’s not praise-worthy, I’m not sure what is.

The Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed is saving millions of lives by cutting vaccine development down from five to 10 years or more to mere months. Without ridding us of that red tape, millions would die. And it’s not just an initial vaccine. Moderna has already produced a modified version of its vaccine to tackle the South African variant of COVID-19, causing some unique problems.

What’s even more remarkable than that, the focus on mRNA vaccines from this pandemic could end up spurring a new generation of vaccine miracles. Last summer, BioNTech, the Pfizer vaccine company, used the same biotech to produce early promising results of a vaccine against the cancer melanoma. Other research has found promising results from mRNA in creating the first vaccine against malaria, one of the world’s most dangerous diseases. 

We could be on the verge of a great revolution in modern medicine, and out of the ashes of a pandemic, we find the keys to solving some of the worst diseases afflicting humanity. Again, the church bells should be tolling over this. People should be celebrating in the streets.

Instead, we get treated to daily dour assessments of “experts” in the national press who can’t admit any progress because they don’t trust Americans to handle good news. That’s why we get the near-daily stupidity from Dr. Anthony Fauci. He is doing little to help vaccine adoption in the United States.

The end of the pandemic is near. The exceptionalism of America is what facilitated this great miracle. We should celebrate this moment just as we did polio’s end because what we’re witnessing is historic. We’ve never done this before, and the speed with which we’ve accomplished it will go down in history as one of the greatest moments in American history.

Go get vaccinated, America. And relish this great moment in United States history.