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Editorial: Best news in a gloomy year

It’s not hyperbole to call it a medical miracle that a vaccine for COVID-19 received Food and Drug Administration approval Friday.

The first case of COVID-19 was identified Jan. 20 in the state of Washington. The first case in North Carolina was identified March 3, and the first case in Rowan County came just a couple weeks later. Now, just several months later, states are set to get the first doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer. Other vaccines are not far behind.

The news is a ray of sunshine in what has otherwise been a dark year. Coronavirus will be one of the leading causes of death among Rowan County residents, but a vaccine combined with precautions most folks are already taking should make COVID-19 a smaller concern in 2021.

For comparison, as of Saturday, 150 people have died of COVID-19 in Rowan County. While 2020 statistics for other causes of death are not yet available, we can look to the most recent numbers available — 2018. Then, 328 people died from heart disease, 315 from cancer, 106 from chronic lower respiratory diseases and 48 from the flu.

The reality is that Pfizer’s and other companies’ vaccines will not be a panacea. A poll released last week by Elon University found that 40.5% of North Carolinians who were asked said they will take a COVID-19 vaccine if approved. A similar question in a poll from High Point University found that 42% of those asked plan to take a vaccine. If most people do not take the vaccine, the country will still need to rely on measures like wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding large crowds until enough people are comfortable doing so. Because there have been documented cases of people contracting COVID-19 a second time, getting it once is not necessarily a guarantee of immunity.

So, yes, the approval of a vaccine Friday was one of the best pieces of news all year, but now the difficult work begins to produce enough doses for people to be vaccinated, prove to people that it’s safe and overcome hesitancy about the speed at which it was developed. The reality is that a significant portion of people will refuse to be vaccinated because they believe the pandemic itself is a “hoax” or they were anti-vaxxers before coronavirus.

Because of those concerns, it’s important to note that Pfizer has run tests that include more than 44,000 people. An analysis by the FDA found no concerns that would preclude its use for people 16 and older. If the Pfizer vaccine is specifically a concern, it’s likely there will be other options.

Federal, state and local leaders, meanwhile, can help with bringing the pandemic to an end by being vaccinated in public when they feel comfortable doing so and speaking about vaccine safety.

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