With COVID-19 vaccinations rising and cases falling, Americans are once again preparing to gather for a July Fourth filled with barbecues, parades, and fireworks. We’re eager to celebrate our independence from the coronavirus and get back to normal life.
But before moving on, we all need to do two things. We need to thank the thousands of heroes who have been guiding us through this dark time. And we need to keep up the pressure to truly defeat the pandemic by ensuring that everyone is vaccinated.
As a 40-year resident of Massachusetts who is currently serving as President Biden’s science adviser and as a member of his Cabinet, I’m acutely aware of both.
COVID-19 has been a catastrophe, killing more than 600,000 Americans and many millions of people around the globe, with the burdens falling heaviest on marginalized and disadvantaged communities.
But it’s also made us realize how interdependent we are. Over the past year and a half, we’ve relied on heroic acts large and small from so many people — including scientists who created highly effective vaccines at a pace once thought impossible; doctors and nurses who worked round the clock to save lives while inventing new medical procedures along the way; neighbors who risked their lives to keep open essential businesses and services; community groups who stood up testing and vaccination sites; religious leaders who tended to the needs of their congregations; people who sewed masks, donated funds, and drove others to get vaccinated; teachers who worked desperately to support their students when education moved online.
It’s time to thank all these heroes for serving when their fellow citizens needed them. Beyond collective recognition, they deserve individual thanks.
As a start, I decided to write thank-you notes below to some of the heroes in my own hometown of Cambridge. I hope you’ll do the same. The Globe has set up a callout where you can write about someone in your community, or you can #ThankAHero on social media.
Even as we express gratitude, it’s important to remember that there’s more to do.
Massachusetts has done well — 71 percent of adults are fully vaccinated and 82 percent have had at least one shot. Still, as a scientist, I’m anxious that many Americans remain at risk and the virus is continuing to mutate, generating variants that are more transmissible and more virulent. The best way to save lives and prevent a resurgence is to help more Americans get vaccinated.
You can do your part by respectfully reaching out to people you know who haven’t yet been vaccinated. Offer to listen to their concerns, help find answers to any questions they have, and share why you got the vaccine. I got my vaccine because I concluded it’s the best way to protect myself and my loved ones. (I ended up having no side effects, but was prepared to trade a day of being achy and tired for the confidence that I was safe against serious illness.)
Helping someone get vaccinated will help save lives — and get us fully back to normal.
It’s time to thank a hero, and be a hero.
Here’s a sample from my thank-you list. Who’s on yours?
▪ Susan Cabot, a retired internal medicine doctor who’s my next-door neighbor. Thank you for reactivating your medical license through the Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps to give vaccinations.
▪ Tracy Chang, the chef-owner of PAGU: Thank you for cofounding two nonprofits, Project Restore Us and Off Their Plate, which employed cooks laid off by shuttered restaurants to provide meals to front-line health care and other essential workers.
▪ Tony Clark, founder of Cambridge’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force: Thank you for holding community conversations to address people’s concerns about vaccination and then setting up trusted community-run vaccination clinics conveniently located for Black and brown residents.
▪ Claude A. Jacob, Cambridge’s chief public health officer: Thank you for partnering with community leaders, a local biomedical institute, an ambulance company, and the Cambridge Fire Department to set up the state’s first comprehensive testing program for nursing homes and then free daily citywide testing sites.
▪ Darrin Korte, executive director of Cambridge Community Center: Thank you for spurring your 92-year-old organization to create its first-ever food pantry, which has been providing food to families in need for 15 months.
▪ Melissa Moore, world-leading RNA biologist who nearly five years ago became chief scientific officer of platform research at Cambridge-based Moderna: Thank you for the central role you played in creating the mRNA vaccines that are helping us overcome the pandemic.
▪ Geeta Pradhan, president of the Cambridge Community Foundation: Thank you for organizing private-sector emergency funds in 2020 that gave nearly $1.3 million in grants to 66 community and arts organizations and nearly 1,500 out-of-work families who needed help feeding kids, paying bills, and caring for elderly relatives, college students managing unexpected expenses like virtual learning, and artists whose shows were shuttered, and awarding an additional $2.4 million for direct aid through public-private partnerships.
▪ Sumbul Siddiqui, mayor of Cambridge: Thanks to you and the city leadership for rapidly creating programs, including launching the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund, to directly pay rent and utility bills for residents with the greatest need, enacting a local eviction moratorium, and setting up an emergency homeless shelter.
▪ Cameron Van Fossen, executive director of Y2Y, a youth- and student-led shelter for homeless young adults: Thanks to you and your team for staying open throughout the pandemic to serve vulnerable people, often from the LGBTQ+ community, so they can stay safe.
Eric S. Lander is President Biden’s science adviser and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Update: At the time this column was published, Eric Lander held stock in BioNTech SE, Pfizer’s partner on the COVID-19 vaccine.