We’ve become so accustomed to bad news this year that when good news comes, it can be quite disarming. And not just good news: better news than expected. Not just a vaccine, but two vaccines, both more than 90% effective.
And although the knowledge that most vaccines are something like 50% effective did bring me back down to earth, this was still a colossal relief. I remember hearing in March that a vaccine would be 12–18 months away at the earliest, and struggling to even comprehend what it would be like to exist in a pandemic world until September 2021. Of course, it may well be September 2021 by the time they get round to vaccinating us, but if they can save the elderly and the seriously ill in this winter, that’s a momentous human achievement. And yes, the anti-vax crowd have raised their misshapen heads, sounded their horns and charged into the debate like the riders of Rohan, but I find that they’re low on my list of people to care about, as long as people who don’t want to die of coronavirus have access to the vaccine.
What this means is that this time next year things could very well be “back to normal”. This is a phrase which I’m hearing a lot from the US, too. It’s comforting to think of Trump as a mere aberration on our collective path to human progress; it’s comforting to think of coronavirus this way too. But both will ultimately be back, in some new form. Trumpism is not going away any time soon, and the threat of infectious disease is not going away ever. If Biden is just unremarkable enough that everyone can have a much-needed switchoff from politics, and if the vaccine is effective enough that we can all go back to licking every door handle we come across, then we’re in trouble. To steal a phrase, that light at the end of the tunnel might just be a train coming our way.
Or maybe I’m just overreacting. As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history can just forget all about it.