Will there be a COVID vaccine? Either way, uncertainty will remain.
Prof. Noah Feldman, a syndicated columnist, has pointed out that there may never be a vaccine against COVID-19. The universe that we have all come to assume is permanent is one in which every technical problem has a solution. It is only a matter of time, especially when dire events press, that someone among us will rise to the occasion.
Feldman’s warning is a sober reminder. There is no guarantee that an effective vaccine will be discovered and, for that matter, no guarantee that herd immunity will be achieved before millions of people die, if ever it will be achieved.
We hope, of course, that Feldman is wrong. For the sake of argument, let us say he is wrong. Let us say that an effective COVID-19 vaccine is produced in a year or two and widely administered. Even so, uncertainty and fear will remain, since no one will be able to say that some other virus, equally or even more deadly and recalcitrant than COVID-19, lurks. If it can happen once, why can’t it happen again? If one virus can upend the whole world in a few weeks — if one virus can change our view of ourselves and all of society — it will seem eminently reasonable to sustain a sense of fear, at worst, or a sense of uncertainty, at best, even if COVID-19 is conquered.
There are corollaries to a general state of uneasiness. Pressure will be heavy on governments around the globe to stockpile emergency medical equipment. Bitter debates about how much and how long to lock down, if at all, will continue. All this will happen even though there can be no certainty that however extensive the stockpiling and whatever consensus on lockdowns is reached, the next pandemic would require the same emergency medical equipment and the same societal response.
Whether COVID-19 has ushered us all into a new epoch in human civilization cannot now be known. It is too early. At a minimum, many years of an epidemic-free civilization will have to pass before the uncertainty could pass, with the present pandemic to be seen retrospectively as a one-time worldwide upheaval.
On an entirely different plane: There is a thread between the current pandemic and the death of Princess Diana, when people became overwrought in a way no one imagined possible, that is, when a common emotion circled around the entire world. An emotional focus went international.
Each of these events share a dramatic, historical phenomenon in common: the attention of the entire world — billions of people — focused on the same event at the same time. The mechanism was modern communications. The current pandemic amplifies this reality first experienced at Diana’s death.
Prophet Isaiah speaks of the future arrival of the Messiah and of a subsequent Messianic age that all of humanity will be swept up in.
This universal quality of Isaiah’s prophecy should strike us as realistic now that we see that a single event can focus the attention of the entire world at the same time.
“I shall bring them to My holy mountain and I shall gladden them in My house of prayer . . . for My House shall be a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).
Jewish tradition has long been opposed to efforts to “calculate the end,” to figure out the date of the arrival of the Messiah. Traditionally, this knowledge was hidden even from Patriarch Jacob, “the choicest of the Patriarchs,” and historically the attempt to make the calculation has been violated by false messiahs such as Sabbatai Zvi (1626-1676), with dire results for masses of Jews.
But a condition that touches every corner of humanity? Clearly, the present time demonstrates the possibility, whether this time turns out to be the pre-Messianic period or not.
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