Responding to

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that
science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” 

 Isaac Asimov
The exciting news is that two vaccines to prevent COVID-19 are being distributed nationwide. The not-so-exciting news is that we still have to contend with winter and most of spring. It probably won't be until April that any vaccines are widely available to the general public.

Nevertheless, this is a pretty extraordinary point in the pandemic. The production and distribution of a vaccine is a major milestone in our journey to return to life as we once knew it. The rollout of the vaccines is also one of the most ambitious vaccination efforts in the nation’s history. And, although experts are uncertain when the country’s businesses, schools, and everyday routines will settle into a new normal, we at least have some heartening news.

The two vaccines that have received emergency use authorization by the FDA, one made by Pfizer-BioNTech and the other made by Moderna, are the first to use a technology that researchers have actually been working on for years. The technology allows scientists to develop vaccines in a laboratory much faster than traditional methods.

Both vaccines will require two shots to be effective. And, if your first dose is the Pfizer vaccine, your second dose also needs to be Pfizer's. The same is true for the Moderna vaccine. There aren’t yet enough doses for everyone and the state's Department of Health is still finalizing its priority list of which groups of people should receive the vaccine and in what order. Healthcare workers who have face-to-face contact with patients, especially patients infected with COVID-19, top the list.

There are still lots of questions to be answered. Potential side-effects of the vaccine are reported to be much like those associated with a flu shot. Information on how well the vaccine will work in the general population is still limited. So is how much it may reduce the severity or transmission of the disease. Its effectiveness on older people is also not yet known. But Frank Bruno, a 95 year old artist from Arizona who participated in the Moderna clinical trial, tested positive for antibodies after being inoculated. He commented, “if my mother was alive, she’d be about 130, and I would recommend the shot to her.”
Ultimately, it will all come down to how individuals feel about getting the vaccine. Not everyone is going to trust the science. Not everyone will be willing to be vaccinated. And vaccines are not an off switch. It will still take many months to vaccinate enough people that we can begin to resume normal life and the interim could prove long, confusing, and chaotic. It's likely the next six months will bring delays in vaccine timelines, struggles over vaccine priority, questions about how much immunity vaccinated individuals possess, and how they should behave. Frank Bruni observed, "This isn’t the beginning of the end. It’s the beginning of the middle, a lot could go wrong and I’m not sure that enough of us appreciate that."

When vaccines will become available to the general public depends on a variety of things. For one thing, we don't yet know how many other vaccine candidates, like AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s, will be authorized. The companies say they have ramped up their manufacturing capacity, so doses can be ready to go as soon as the FDA gives the green light. For another, we won't know whether the other vaccines will encounter manufacturing delays until those delays actually occur. Back in 2009, during the production of the H1N1 swine-flu vaccine (that was also a pandemic, but not to the scale of COVID-19), the country ran out of capacity to package bulk vaccines into vials. While the federal government set up a program to prevent the bottleneck from occurring again, we likely won't know what other snags may come up until they do. We also don't yet know much about side-effects or reactions to the vaccines. Even though they've been sufficiently tested to meet FDA requirements, sample sizes of 40,000 people don't necessarily reveal the same information as do sample sizes of several million people.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to convey a sense of doom and gloom, because I'm optimistic that things are going to improve. But I also think it's important to be realistic about what lies ahead. Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts the United States could begin to achieve early stages of herd immunity against the coronavirus by late spring or summer if enough people receive vaccinations. And if that happens, "we could really turn this thing around" toward the end of 2021.

Eventually, our lives will start getting back to normal. It won’t happen overnight, but little by little. Small gatherings such as dinner parties might become safe if everyone in the group is vaccinated. School reopenings and gatherings will also likely happen, but only when widespread vaccination, along with masks and physical distancing through the winter and spring, push COVID-19 rates to low levels.

Public health experts stress that vaccines work best in tandem with other measures and the start of a vaccination campaign isn't an excuse to abandon the measures that are working right now. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for CDC director, offered this analogy: “If I have a cup of water, I can put out a stove fire. But I can’t put out a forest fire, even if that water is 100% potent. That’s why everyone must wear a mask. As a nation, we’ll recover faster if you give the vaccine less work to do when it’s ready.” Frank Bruni also reminds us, "The start of vaccinations in America has, if anything, increased the need for each of us to act in a thoughtful, responsible, unselfish, public-spirited fashion. Our journey to this chapter of the pandemic hasn’t been an especially enlightened or inspiring one. So let’s make our journey through this chapter more constructive, more collaborative."

In some ways, the arrival of vaccines, particularly at the holidays, feels a bit like a Christmas gift that's on back-order. We know it's coming, we're just not certain when. In the meantime, the take-away message for Kitchen Angels is that the pandemic isn't over yet and we will continue to follow all of our safety protocols until the risk to staff, volunteers, and clients is as low as possible.

Please, continue to do everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.
The ‘Christmas Star’ will hit its peak tonight

Some people believe there's no such thing as coincidence. Others are less convinced. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, today marks an event that doesn't occur very often. Dubbed the “Jupiter-Saturn Great Conjunction,” which occurs every 20 years, this year's conjunction is more dramatic than anything that has occurred since 1623, and it's occurring on the winter solstice.

All through December, Jupiter and Saturn have been moving closer and closer together in the western sky so that they appear as one bright point of light when viewed with the naked eye. Their closest point of alignment, however, is tonight when they will appear just a tenth of a degree apart. If you're curious, here's a video of what the planets will be doing.

And with the arrival of the solstice, the light will begin to return.