The Vaccine Project Newsletter: Farewell. May we all fare well.

This week’s Haymarket Media Vaccine Project Newsletter is 2,243 words and will take you seven minutes to read.

Tables with masked people sitting
Source: Getty Images

On the doorstep of spring and the hope of a better and brighter day for the world, today we offer our final edition of the Haymarket Media Vaccine Project Newsletter. It is a valediction without a victory lap, an ode to public health and public health communication as they could have been, should have been and still might be.

Two years and five days ago …

In his opening remarks at a media briefing on March 11, 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic of a new disease caused by a new virus. From WHO headquarters in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” called on nations everywhere to move swiftly, boldly and decisively to stop the virus in its tracks.

At that time, 4,291 people had died of the affliction that came to be known as COVID-19. The worldwide tally of cases was 118,000. Optimistically, Ghebreyesus characterized the nascent pandemic as one that could be nipped in its pernicious bud by systematically identifying and isolating cases and tracing every contact.

It was not to be. Ever since, the experts have stayed busy pondering what might have been.

Mind-bending

The global death toll of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has now surged past an unfathomable 6 million and approaches 1 million in the United States alone. The actual number of deaths could be three times that many, researchers believe.

If we were to observe 10 seconds of silence for each one of the 6 million individuals who have died of COVID-19, the collective hush would last for two years.

The 118,000 global cases reported in March 2020 have since mushroomed to 462 million in virtually every corner of the world, with nearly 80 million of them in the U.S. That’s an undercount as well; recent analysis of blood tests put the total estimate of infected in the U.S. at 140 million.

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his previous reporting and writing on COVID, recently asked, “How Did This Many Deaths Become Normal?” Yong offers a harsh reckoning of how COVID-19 has become the third-leading killer in this country, just behind the monoliths of heart disease and cancer and ahead of accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, lung disease and diabetes.

The U.S. is averaging 1,200 COVID-19 deaths a day – the equivalent, as former National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins pointed out, of several jumbo jets going down in one 24-hour news cycle. In a newly proposed Roadmap for Living with COVID, more than 50 leading scientists say deaths from COVID-19 and other serious respiratory illnesses must drop to 165 per day before we can transition to a “next normal” phase without restrictive public health measures.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has noted repeatedly that we won’t move out of pandemic mode until U.S. cases fall “well below” 10,000 a day. At 32,000 cases a day, we’re closer to that goal now than we’ve been since last June (12,000 a day), when we briefly entertained the fantasy of a COVID-free summer at the grill. The good news: We’re a long way downslope from the staggering Omicron peak of more than 800,000 new cases a day just two months ago.

Source: Getty Images.

Awe-inspiring

The toll of suffering would have been far worse without the arrival of vaccines developed at, yes, warp speed, a public health blessing but a public relations curse. How could something so good happen so fast? The pundits have a term for it: fear of novelty.

The word “vaccine” doesn’t appear in the text of WHO’s March 2020 pandemic declaration. Within days, though, Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans to co-develop a COVID-19 vaccine. That same week, the first human participant received the first dose of Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine in a phase 1 trial.

Just nine months later, the worldwide COVID-19 vaccination effort was miraculously in motion. It represented the largest immunization campaign in human history, with more than 10.7 billion doses delivered to date. Somehow the epic proportions and noble intent of this endeavor got lost in the squabbles over mask and vaccine mandates and the attention paid to vaccine hesitancy and resistance, the tail that persistently wagged the dog.

Enterprising

Pedaling furiously in tandem with the vaccination effort was an equally ambitious public education initiative, a $50 million multimedia campaign spearheaded by the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative to educate, motivate and vaccinate the population. The campaign put individual choice at the center of the equation with the mantra “It’s Up to You.” The expectation – and hope – was that the vast majority of us, once properly equipped with the facts, would make the sensible decision to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

At this point, it’s a solid majority but more than a few bricks shy of a vast one. The latest U.S. metrics:

• 216.8 million are fully vaccinated, 65.3% of the population and 69.4% of the vaccine-eligible.

• The Roadmap group says we must aim to vaccinate 85% of the population by the end of 2022.

• 96.1 million are “up to date,” meaning that they have received a booster. Another 88 million are booster-eligible.

• Worldwide, we have miles to go on this journey: 64% of the population has received at least one dose, but only 14% of people in low-income countries.

Frustrating

The vaccination effort has faced multi-tentacled challenges, not the least of which is a steady stream of misinformation and disinformation spewing forth on social media and other ubiquitous (and sometimes iniquitous) communication channels. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security estimates that misinformation and disinformation are responsible for 5% to 30% of voluntary non-vaccination, which translates to millions of people whether you take the over or under.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) of those who normally get a flu shot every year have not rolled up their sleeves for COVID-19 vaccine.

Confusing

At the helm of the public health ship of state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a valiant effort to “follow the science” in dispensing advice and navigating through perilous seas. The funny thing about science, though, is that our knowledge and understanding keep changing, especially with a new virus on our hands. Shapeshifting science in hot pursuit of a shapeshifting virus led to shapeshifting communications.

At times, the public health response to the pandemic has taken on a choose-your-own-adventure quality. Too often, the words got in the way. A lack of consistency, clarity and simplicity in fundamental messaging led to confusion. We were in an escape room where the clues kept changing.

Source: Getty Images.

Reverberating

The seismic effect of the virus has created aftershocks. The pandemic put much of regular healthcare on hold or time-delay – cancer screenings, cancer treatment, all types of surgeries. Routine immunizations for kids suffered, especially in communities of color and rural areas, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

COVID layered a new set of mental health woes on top of an existing bedrock of human hurt, particularly among the young. The WHO points to a pandemic-driven 25% increase in worldwide prevalence of anxiety and depression.

Classroom education got turned inside out. Parents and kids found a way to roll with the punches.

Behind closed doors, domestic violence increased. The emergency shelter of the Center for Hope and Safety, the intervention agency here in Bergen County, New Jersey, took in 222 women, children and men in 2021, 25% more than the prior 10-year average and the highest number in the agency’s 45-year history.

The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated disparities in health care among racial and ethnic minorities and illuminated how those conditions lead to morbidity and mortality, better known as sickness and death.

Sadly, public health issues took on political colors, mostly red and blue.

Encouraging

Out of all this upheaval and anguish came some positives: Namely, a fresh look at the world of work. A re-examination of the way senior care is run (kudos to McKnight’s rigorous coverage). An opportunity to rethink how we communicate critical information. Greater awareness and appreciation of the interconnectedness of the human race. “None of us will be safe until all of us are safe.”

In Philadelphia, Dr. Ala Stanford, a MM+M/PRWeek Health Influencer 50 honoree in 2020, founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to help neighborhoods hit hard by the disease. Many people coming for vaccines and tests had other health issues that cried out for attention. Dr. Stanford has now opened a primary care clinic in the church that had served as her headquarters.

Pending

Questions linger. Moving forward, how can we continue to protect the most vulnerable in a world where masks are coming off and restrictions are evaporating? The elderly represent 15% of our population but account for 75% of COVID-19 deaths.

Will we be ready for the next variant(s)? Will we need more boosters? (Pfizer says yes.) How effective will anti-COVID pills be in warding off severe disease?

Will schools be looking at mandatory vaccination? How will that play in Peoria?

How long a shadow will long COVID cast?

What will we learn about the immunity offered by vaccination on the one hand and natural infection on the other?

Will we apply what we’ve learned the hard way to make the next pandemic an easier climb?

Source: Getty Images.

Thanking

To all of you on the front lines of our battered and bruised healthcare system, bless you.

There are no words up to the task of honoring you.

To essential workers everywhere, you have always been essential and always will be.

To everyone who has seen a loved one suffer or die from this dread disease, our heartfelt condolences. Chances are we all know someone who has been buffeted by these winds. There are no degrees of separation.

To everyone, everywhere who has managed to cope, thank you for demonstrating the resiliency of the human spirit and the essential goodness of the human heart.

Thanks to health communicators everywhere for rising to an unprecedented challenge, and to Haymarket Media publications for staying on top of the ever-changing news. They will continue to do so. Stay tuned.

Thank you to Real Chemistry for the steadfast support of this newsletter. The Real Chemistry Vaccine Project ebook , a yearlong collaboration with M+M, offers “a real-time case study of best practices for getting people the information they need, as quickly as possible, when health-related crises occur.”

Thanks to all of you who have traveled this road with us and contributed news tips and constructive criticism. And songs.

We have published this weekly newsletter 61 times since January 2021. Add in the Coronavirus Briefings pioneered by the Haymarket team in the dawning days of the pandemic, and more than 150 missives have come your way. A shout-out to Deborah Stoll for giving them wings… and songs.

Many thanks to Larry Dobrow and Steve Madden for trusting me with this gig, this honor, this privilege, and offering constant guidance and inspiration, and to our crackerjack production team for bringing it all to life, week after week.

Parting

The faux cow at the corner of our front yard, presiding over four lanes of traffic on New Bridge Road, survived the Moo variant and has now shed her mask. It is looped around her ear just in case she needs it. (Factoid: the word “vaccine” comes from vacca, Latin for cow.)

Early in the coronavirus onslaught, I wrote a letter to my Mom and Dad in the ether beyond this earth. They were two-year-olds during the 1918 flu pandemic, teenagers without cell phones in the Great Depression and brand new parents without internet access during World War II.

“It has been a long time since my generation, or the generations that have followed, has had to sacrifice anything significant for what might be considered the common good,” I wrote. “It is a skill we had better learn quickly. Countless lives depend on it.”

How have we done? I wish we could say we knocked it out of the park. We have whiffed on a couple of coronavirus curveballs and nasty sliders – but in a sense, we are still at bat. We can’t undo the damage done yesterday but we can save lives tomorrow. After all, it’s better to spring forward than fall back.

Vaccine advocates hope to achieve 70% coverage in every country by mid-year – attainable, Ghebreyesus vows, if government and industry leaders are willing to “walk the talk on vaccine equity… It’s never too late to come together to do the right thing.”

A fitting benediction. Amen.

…and some songs for the road

The End, Earl Grant

Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason Family Band

You’ll Never Walk Alone, Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball, and the National Health Service Voices of Care Choir

Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, Leszek Świdziński

Seasons of Love, the cast of Rent

You Raise Me Up, Paralympics Closing Ceremony/Beijing 2022

Time to Say Goodbye, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman

Time to say Goodnight Moon. Thank you for joining us. Be well, stay well. Pray for Ukraine.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu

On the doorstep of spring and the hope of a better and brighter day for the world, today we offer our final edition of the Haymarket Media Vaccine Project Newsletter. It is a valediction without a victory lap, an ode to public health and public health communication as they could have been, should have been and still might be.

Two years and five days ago …

In his opening remarks at a media briefing on March 11, 2020, the Director-General of the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic of a new disease caused by a new virus. From WHO headquarters in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction,” called on nations everywhere to move swiftly, boldly and decisively to stop the virus in its tracks.

At that time, 4,291 people had died of the affliction that came to be known as COVID-19. The worldwide tally of cases was 118,000. Optimistically, Ghebreyesus characterized the nascent pandemic as one that could be nipped in its pernicious bud by systematically identifying and isolating cases and tracing every contact.

It was not to be. Ever since, the experts have stayed busy pondering what might have been.

Mind-bending

The global death toll of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has now surged past an unfathomable 6 million and approaches 1 million in the United States alone. The actual number of deaths could be three times that many, researchers believe.

If we were to observe 10 seconds of silence for each one of the 6 million individuals who have died of COVID-19, the collective hush would last for two years.

The 118,000 global cases reported in March 2020 have since mushroomed to 462 million in virtually every corner of the world, with nearly 80 million of them in the U.S. That’s an undercount as well; recent analysis of blood tests put the total estimate of infected in the U.S. at 140 million.

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong, a Pulitzer Prize winner for his previous reporting and writing on COVID, recently asked, “How Did This Many Deaths Become Normal?” Yong offers a harsh reckoning of how COVID-19 has become the third-leading killer in this country, just behind the monoliths of heart disease and cancer and ahead of accidents, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, lung disease and diabetes.

The U.S. is averaging 1,200 COVID-19 deaths a day – the equivalent, as former National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins pointed out, of several jumbo jets going down in one 24-hour news cycle. In a newly proposed Roadmap for Living with COVID, more than 50 leading scientists say deaths from COVID-19 and other serious respiratory illnesses must drop to 165 per day before we can transition to a “next normal” phase without restrictive public health measures.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has noted repeatedly that we won’t move out of pandemic mode until U.S. cases fall “well below” 10,000 a day. At 32,000 cases a day, we’re closer to that goal now than we’ve been since last June (12,000 a day), when we briefly entertained the fantasy of a COVID-free summer at the grill. The good news: We’re a long way downslope from the staggering Omicron peak of more than 800,000 new cases a day just two months ago.

Awe-inspiring

The toll of suffering would have been far worse without the arrival of vaccines developed at, yes, warp speed, a public health blessing but a public relations curse. How could something so good happen so fast? The pundits have a term for it: fear of novelty.

The word “vaccine” doesn’t appear in the text of WHO’s March 2020 pandemic declaration. Within days, though, Pfizer and BioNTech announced plans to co-develop a COVID-19 vaccine. That same week, the first human participant received the first dose of Moderna’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine in a phase 1 trial.

Just nine months later, the worldwide COVID-19 vaccination effort was miraculously in motion. It represented the largest immunization campaign in human history, with more than 10.7 billion doses delivered to date. Somehow the epic proportions and noble intent of this endeavor got lost in the squabbles over mask and vaccine mandates and the attention paid to vaccine hesitancy and resistance, the tail that persistently wagged the dog.

Enterprising

Pedaling furiously in tandem with the vaccination effort was an equally ambitious public education initiative, a $50 million multimedia campaign spearheaded by the Ad Council and COVID Collaborative to educate, motivate and vaccinate the population. The campaign put individual choice at the center of the equation with the mantra “It’s Up to You.” The expectation – and hope – was that the vast majority of us, once properly equipped with the facts, would make the sensible decision to protect ourselves, our families and our communities.

At this point, it’s a solid majority but more than a few bricks shy of a vast one. The latest U.S. metrics:

• 216.8 million are fully vaccinated, 65.3% of the population and 69.4% of the vaccine-eligible.

• The Roadmap group says we must aim to vaccinate 85% of the population by the end of 2022.

• 96.1 million are “up to date,” meaning that they have received a booster. Another 88 million are booster-eligible.

• Worldwide, we have miles to go on this journey: 64% of the population has received at least one dose, but only 14% of people in low-income countries.

Frustrating

The vaccination effort has faced multi-tentacled challenges, not the least of which is a steady stream of misinformation and disinformation spewing forth on social media and other ubiquitous (and sometimes iniquitous) communication channels. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security estimates that misinformation and disinformation are responsible for 5% to 30% of voluntary non-vaccination, which translates to millions of people whether you take the over or under.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) of those who normally get a flu shot every year have not rolled up their sleeves for COVID-19 vaccine.

Confusing

At the helm of the public health ship of state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made a valiant effort to “follow the science” in dispensing advice and navigating through perilous seas. The funny thing about science, though, is that our knowledge and understanding keep changing, especially with a new virus on our hands. Shapeshifting science in hot pursuit of a shapeshifting virus led to shapeshifting communications.

At times, the public health response to the pandemic has taken on a choose-your-own-adventure quality. Too often, the words got in the way. A lack of consistency, clarity and simplicity in fundamental messaging led to confusion. We were in an escape room where the clues kept changing.

Reverberating

The seismic effect of the virus has created aftershocks. The pandemic put much of regular healthcare on hold or time-delay – cancer screenings, cancer treatment, all types of surgeries. Routine immunizations for kids suffered, especially in communities of color and rural areas, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

COVID layered a new set of mental health woes on top of an existing bedrock of human hurt, particularly among the young. The WHO points to a pandemic-driven 25% increase in worldwide prevalence of anxiety and depression.

Classroom education got turned inside out. Parents and kids found a way to roll with the punches.

Behind closed doors, domestic violence increased. The emergency shelter of the Center for Hope and Safety, the intervention agency here in Bergen County, New Jersey, took in 222 women, children and men in 2021, 25% more than the prior 10-year average and the highest number in the agency’s 45-year history.

The pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated disparities in health care among racial and ethnic minorities and illuminated how those conditions lead to morbidity and mortality, better known as sickness and death.

Sadly, public health issues took on political colors, mostly red and blue.

Encouraging

Out of all this upheaval and anguish came some positives: Namely, a fresh look at the world of work. A re-examination of the way senior care is run (kudos to McKnight’s rigorous coverage). An opportunity to rethink how we communicate critical information. Greater awareness and appreciation of the interconnectedness of the human race. “None of us will be safe until all of us are safe.”

In Philadelphia, Dr. Ala Stanford, a MM+M/PRWeek Health Influencer 50 honoree in 2020, founded the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to help neighborhoods hit hard by the disease. Many people coming for vaccines and tests had other health issues that cried out for attention. Dr. Stanford has now opened a primary care clinic in the church that had served as her headquarters.

Pending

Questions linger. Moving forward, how can we continue to protect the most vulnerable in a world where masks are coming off and restrictions are evaporating? The elderly represent 15% of our population but account for 75% of COVID-19 deaths.

Will we be ready for the next variant(s)? Will we need more boosters? (Pfizer says yes.) How effective will anti-COVID pills be in warding off severe disease?

Will schools be looking at mandatory vaccination? How will that play in Peoria?

How long a shadow will long COVID cast?

What will we learn about the immunity offered by vaccination on the one hand and natural infection on the other?

Will we apply what we’ve learned the hard way to make the next pandemic an easier climb?

Thanking

To all of you on the front lines of our battered and bruised healthcare system, bless you.

There are no words up to the task of honoring you.

To essential workers everywhere, you have always been essential and always will be.

To everyone who has seen a loved one suffer or die from this dread disease, our heartfelt condolences. Chances are we all know someone who has been buffeted by these winds. There are no degrees of separation.

To everyone, everywhere who has managed to cope, thank you for demonstrating the resiliency of the human spirit and the essential goodness of the human heart.

Thanks to health communicators everywhere for rising to an unprecedented challenge, and to Haymarket Media publications for staying on top of the ever-changing news. They will continue to do so. Stay tuned.

Thank you to Real Chemistry for the steadfast support of this newsletter. The Real Chemistry Vaccine Project ebook , a yearlong collaboration with M+M, offers “a real-time case study of best practices for getting people the information they need, as quickly as possible, when health-related crises occur.”

Thanks to all of you who have traveled this road with us and contributed news tips and constructive criticism. And songs.

We have published this weekly newsletter 61 times since January 2021. Add in the Coronavirus Briefings pioneered by the Haymarket team in the dawning days of the pandemic, and more than 150 missives have come your way. A shout-out to Deborah Stoll for giving them wings… and songs.

Many thanks to Larry Dobrow and Steve Madden for trusting me with this gig, this honor, this privilege, and offering constant guidance and inspiration, and to our crackerjack production team for bringing it all to life, week after week.

Parting

The faux cow at the corner of our front yard, presiding over four lanes of traffic on New Bridge Road, survived the Moo variant and has now shed her mask. It is looped around her ear just in case she needs it. (Factoid: the word “vaccine” comes from vacca, Latin for cow.)

Early in the coronavirus onslaught, I wrote a letter to my Mom and Dad in the ether beyond this earth. They were two-year-olds during the 1918 flu pandemic, teenagers without cell phones in the Great Depression and brand new parents without internet access during World War II.

“It has been a long time since my generation, or the generations that have followed, has had to sacrifice anything significant for what might be considered the common good,” I wrote. “It is a skill we had better learn quickly. Countless lives depend on it.”

How have we done? I wish we could say we knocked it out of the park. We have whiffed on a couple of coronavirus curveballs and nasty sliders – but in a sense, we are still at bat. We can’t undo the damage done yesterday but we can save lives tomorrow. After all, it’s better to spring forward than fall back.

Vaccine advocates hope to achieve 70% coverage in every country by mid-year – attainable, Ghebreyesus vows, if government and industry leaders are willing to “walk the talk on vaccine equity… It’s never too late to come together to do the right thing.”

A fitting benediction. Amen.

…and some songs for the road

The End, Earl Grant

Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason Family Band

You’ll Never Walk Alone, Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball, and the National Health Service Voices of Care Choir

Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, Leszek Świdziński

Seasons of Love, the cast of Rent

You Raise Me Up, Paralympics Closing Ceremony/Beijing 2022

Time to Say Goodbye, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman

Time to say Goodnight Moon. Thank you for joining us. Be well, stay well. Pray for Ukraine.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” – Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in