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Got COVID for Thanksgiving and I’m grateful

For almost four years, I eluded the COVID-19 virus that was stalking me, family and friends, fellow Americans and all humankind. I figured I was safe when I sat down for a family Thanksgiving dinner, but it turned out I was a sitting duck (turkey?)for my pathological pursuer. And how do I feel about all this? Thankful.

By avoiding the virus for so long, I missed the most dangerous variants and could get the latest version of the vaccination. So, I ended up not with a life-threatening disease, but what feels like a mild cold. I’m going to miss a holiday party I sorely wanted to attend. As my mom used to say to my toddler self after I scraped a knee, “You’ll live.”

And I will indeed live on, grateful to Nobel Prize winners Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman for their discoveries that enabled speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines. It hurts me to say it, but I am even thankful to former President Donald Trump for backing Operation Warp Speed, which used the discoveries of the Nobel laureates to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year.

I’m used to resenting Big Pharma, but not this time. I am grateful for the role Moderna and Pfizer played in getting that vaccine out. Millions more would have died around the world if the COVID-19 vaccine had taken as long from discovery to deployment as the previous recordholder, the mumps vaccine, which took four years.

So, it’s all worked out pretty well for me. But despite the miraculously speedy development of vaccines, it could’ve worked out better for others over the past four years. And it could work out better for others going forward.

Around 1.2 million Americans have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The mortality rate for those who were unvaccinated was 250% higher than those who were. That means hundreds of thousands of Americans died unnecessarily.

And even with this lesson in front of them, over 80% of U.S. adults have failed to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine since it became available in late September. The life expectancy of Americans has doubled since 1900, and vaccinations are a major reason. Do tens of millions of Americans want to go back to the days of smallpox and polio epidemics?

Most of the deaths from COVID-19 befall those Americans over age 65. That cohort constitutes 16% of the U.S. population but has accounted for an estimated 75% of the COVID-19 deaths. But only a third of those senior citizens have received the latest COVID-19 vaccine. Over half of Americans have no intention of getting it.

I live on a college campus amid hundreds of students. They should be getting vaccines before they go home — if not for themselves, then for the older generation. No one wants to give a COVID-19 infection to a grandparent as a holiday gift.

President Joe Biden has declared the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. Maybe so, but as a friend wrote to me upon hearing I was infected, “We might be done with Covid, but Covid is not done with us.”

The newest variant appears more contagious than previous ones. COVID-19 rates are rising. Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were up 10% Thanksgiving week (when I was infected!), the most recent week where data are available.

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