It is not the end of this terrible pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 of our fellow Americans in less than a year, including more than 150 just here in Frederick County.
But the arrival of a safe and effective vaccine looks like it is the beginning of the end.
The protection of our front-line health care workers and first responders — those brave folks who have risked their lives to take care of the sick and dying — has begun, as they are receiving the first doses of the new vaccine. Soon, if all goes well, within a few weeks they will be out of the danger zone at last.
Next will come elderly nursing home residents and their dedicated caregivers, who have suffered the worst effects of the coronavirus. By some estimates, 40 percent of those 300,000 deaths occurred among this most-vulnerable population.
While the details are still being worked out, next will come other essential workers. Since it is definitely essential for the educational development of our children that they get back into the classrooms as quickly as possible, teachers and other school staff should be high on the list of recipients.
Next, in some scientifically valid order, will come the rest of us, including older folks still living on their own and those with pre-existing conditions, and finally everyone who did not fit into an earlier category.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top doc, thinks we should achieve a stable immunity in the population before the end of 2021. Let us hope that, once again, Dr. Fauci is correct. It cannot come too soon.
As the death toll has mounted and mounted by several thousand every day, many of us have almost become inured to the horrors we are witnessing. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said we might lose 3,000 people every day for months because too many people continue to minimize the risk of the virus and refuse to wear a mask.
The Russian dictator Josef Stalin is often quoted as saying that the death of one man is a tragedy, but the deaths of millions is a statistic. It is likely not accurately attributed, but it nonetheless has the ring of truth. In March, we mourned every death, but now we note them but are not bereft unless we know the victim.
Some people have advocated for leaving society open on the false promise that if enough people got sick with the virus, it would lead to “herd immunity” and stop spreading. Of course, some scientists estimated that two million or more people might be killed before immunity was reached.
Thankfully, the vaccine gives us another, less deadly route to the herd immunity. If we can vaccinate enough people — perhaps 70 percent of the population, according to Fauci’s estimate — we can achieve the same goal with far fewer deaths.
All of us should take the same attitude toward getting the vaccine that we did toward wearing masks — it may be a pain, but we need to do this. Gov. Larry Hogan frequently says: Just wear the damn mask. Just take the damn vaccine, too.
This Christmas will be hard, just as hard if not worse than Thanksgiving was, marking the family holiday season with little or no family interactions. It will be a lonely holiday for many people, especially the hundreds of thousands of families mourning their losses. Remember them when you have Christmas dinner with a handful of people rather than 20. It could be a lot worse.
But the path forward seems clearer than it has in a long, long time. Keep the faith, keep wearing the mask, get vaccinated, and next year, we will have a reason to celebrate again.