I, Vaccine: Or, How to Appreciate the Beautifully Simple
Posted: 10 May 2021
Date Written: Dec 17, 2020
Who can’t feel good about the mind-blowingly short duration it’s taken to develop a safe and effective vaccine? For the same reason, we should also be amazed at the complexity of its distribution. The Wall Street Journal captures the point.
The effort to vaccinate the nation relies on chemists, factory workers, truck drivers, pilots, data scientists, bureaucrats, pharmacists and health-care workers. It requires ultracold freezers, dry ice, needles, masks and swabs converging simultaneously at thousands of locations across the country. To work, ever one of the many and complicated links of the chain has to hold.
The distribution has been widely described as the biggest mobilization since World War II. Bravo!, I say. We need some awe-inspiring words to befit this marvelous spectacle.
And yet, the vaccine itself is a relatively simple compound. It consists of Pfizer’s modified mRNA plus seven inactive ingredients as common as table sugar. The mRNA itself stands as an unprecedented achievement. Yet the compound is ordinary, even elegantly so. And it will save millions. What beauty in the simple!
For many, this facet of the story evokes the classic essay bestowing the curious title, “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as Told to Leonard Reed”. Originally published in 1958, this essay skillfully describes the materials that comprise an ordinary pencil, and the far reaches of the world from whence those materials source. It also artfully describes the innumerable myriad of people around the world whose daily work contributes crucially to putting ordinary items such as pencils on nearby stores shelves.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation