The news that the U.S. could have at least two coronavirus vaccines available by the end of the year, even on a limited basis to our highest-risk populations, is a more-than-welcome development in what has been a rough and tremendously-straining year on the nation’s psyche.

Moderna, a biotechnology firm backed by roughly $1 billion in federal funding, announced this week that preliminary indications are that its experimental vaccine in partnership with the National Institutes of Health is showing 95-percent effectiveness. This announcement came a week after Pfizer and BioNTech announced their trial vaccine was showing greater-than-90-percent effectiveness.

Government officials are projecting that if both vaccines eventually pass regulatory evaluations, there would be enough supply to vaccinate 20 million people by late December, with production steadily increasing throughout 2021.

This is exciting news. It isn’t, as some have shamelessly and recklessly suggested (in particular, the adult son of a certain U.S. political figure), some nefariously-timed evidence of politically-motivated malfeasance. It is a testament to the extraordinary work of the American scientific and medical community, a community that should be celebrated and not threatened with retribution or vilified with slanders characterizing them as money-driven hoax-peddlers.

And while there is great cause for optimism, there are still many hurdles to clear in getting a vaccine widely distributed. And we cannot afford to let down our guard now as the country continues to record levels of COVID-19 and is entering what many medical experts are deeming the worst phase of the pandemic.

In retrospect, while a pandemic that has cost a quarter-million lives in America should have never been politicized when it came to taking it seriously, it was naïve to think it wouldn’t be. But as we get set to enter an off-election year, there is an opportunity to turn the temperature down, reset and refocus. On the federal level, the new incoming presidential administration should understand that the pandemic will dominate much of its first year, and it, along with Congress, should give the scientific community and those battling COVID-19 every day on the front lines all they need to combat the virus, without all of the political posturing and hand-wringing we’ve seen throughout this year.

At the state and local levels of government, leaders must show the courage and backbone to follow the science and be willing to enact and enforce strong mitigation measures at a pivotal point in the pandemic. Mask mandates and other stringent protocols can work, if the commitment is there. We’re seeing some of that in Barrow County, where the school system has continued to see cases every week but has so far avoided major outbreaks that would cause schools to shut down because district leaders were willing to put enhanced measures in place — even it stepped on toes or didn’t please everyone.

And finally, person-to-person, we cannot take our eyes off the ball now. I understand perfectly well the feeling of “COVID fatigue.” Like many of you, my family has felt at least some of the weight of this grueling public health crisis. While we’ve been fortunate to avoid any major health issues and aren’t taking that for granted at all, we’ve been under financial strain. We’ve been distanced from many of our extended family members, and we’ve made our fair share of sacrifices along the way. I felt a sense of relief last week when my son was finally able to return to in-person school and I was relieved of the duties and demands of balancing work with looking after him every day and helping him navigate virtual school (I have the extra gray hairs now to prove it).

And yet I’m still holding my breath — both hoping he’ll be OK and at the prospect we might revert back to where things were if the community, state and nation as a whole aren’t committed to and invested in and making wiser choices. We should all be taking this as seriously as and, for some of us, even more so than we did in March and April.

With Thanksgiving coming next week, it’s as good a time as any to reflect on what we’ve been through, what we’ve endured and what lies ahead. However you choose to celebrate the holiday and whomever you celebrate with, please do it responsibly — with your fellow man, beyond your household, in mind.

No matter how you feel about politics or anything else, I think most of us can agree that we’ll be glad to eventually turn our calendars past 2020. But it will mean nothing if we haven’t learned anything from our shared experience from this year or aren’t willing to apply that learning.

Scott Thompson is editor of The Barrow News-Journal. He can be reached at sthompson@barrownewsjournal.com.

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