A Dose of Optimism, as the Pandemic Rages On

Those are strong motivations to take a chance on a vaccine, especially if one’s friends and relatives have had it and fared well.

In September, the actress Jennifer Garner conducted an entertaining interview with Dr. Fauci on her Instagram feed, during which she asked when it would be safe to attend live theater again. “The end of 2021 or maybe even the middle of 2021,” he replied. By then, he explained later, so many Americans would be vaccinated — or immune by virtue of having survived an infection — that it would be safe to sit unmasked in a crowded theater.

Until then, masks and caution are our best alternative. If we rigorously protect ourselves and each other, we can starve the virus of new hosts until our national epidemic finally evaporates.

Then we must help other countries get vaccines too; until they are protected, we cannot venture beyond our borders as tourists or business travelers, nor can others come here. No country can be forgotten; charitable motives aside, their tourists fill our hotels.

We will have competition — or help, if we take a generous view of a global effort. China claims to already have five vaccines in phase 3 trials, and Russia is already marketing its vaccine abroad, although it has not even conducted a phase 3 trial.

Many economists think our national recovery will be rapid, like those that followed the first and second world wars, rather than what followed the financial crashes of 1929 and 2008. China, having beaten the virus, has a growing economy again. Among Americans who have not lost their jobs, personal savings are at record levels. Despite loan defaults in this recession, banks are flush with cash and, if need be, can borrow from their thriving Asian counterparts. When the moment is safe, loans to revive restaurants, hotels and other small businesses should flow.

In the interim, as we hunker down, Congress must find ways to ensure that millions of Americans who are out of work do not go hungry or get evicted.

And once the pandemic is over, one more mission lies ahead: to make sure this does not happen again. We must search for the viruses in nature that are most likely to infect us, and spend the billions of dollars necessary to create vaccines and designer antibodies against them. So that next time we are ready.

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