We are about half way through our two-month "home assignment". This April half has been based in West Virginia and North Carolina. We tramp through the woods, split logs and stack firewood, prune and clean, drag debris and pick up trash, cook meals with the wonder of Kroger, and jump in the frigid river for an icy plunge. (By "we", I mean royal we, mostly Scott . . . ). And the weekends have been times to celebrate our family. This past weekend my sister and brother-in-law brought our nephew Micah up to Sago to celebrate her birthday. In spite of a rainy forecast we hiked to some favourite spots from our childhood, played dominoes and crazy 8's, made s'mores around a campfire, read aloud from The Princess Bride, and had a delicious pizza night. In between the weekend visits, we've enjoyed more relaxed time with my mom, including, ironically, a trip to a funeral on Tuesday. Our main supporting church's organist, who had been a member for probably 55 of her 88 years, passed away, and as old-timers ourselves we wanted to join the service. Masks and distance and an outdoor reception in the parking lot allowed us to reconnect with some of the people whose prayers have kept us all alive. We visited my 90-year-old Aunt Ann who is heading into some cancer surgery, and stopped at some familiar points along the 4-hour drive there and back.
All of these are ordinary miracles. Frozen custard from a stand that has sold it for longer than my lifetime. Conversation with people who have loved us since childhood. Views of rocks and rivers that have been the backdrop of all we know. Stories with siblings. Yard work with parents.
These are the fabric of every day life that we miss. These are the moments that now the whole world does not take for granted.
Because a funeral, an ice cream cone, a day in the car, a visit in a home, are all things that not just we in Uganda but most people in America have missed for a year. And yet here we are. By grace and grit, vaccines have enabled us to interact again as humans.
Except for probably some church members at the funeral and my cousin who is still in line (with whom we stayed masked and distanced), almost everyone we have seen in our month in the USA has been vaccinated for COVID. Tomorrow we will get our second Pfizer dose. A year ago we had barely begun to imagine what COVID-19 would do to our world, and here we are immunised. It's amazing if you stop and think about it. Sadly over 150 million people have become sick and 3 million have died (2%, holding at 10x more lethal than serious flu and 100x more than average flu). Our whole world has been disrupted. Poor places tried to stay isolated; rich places tried to guarantee expensive treatments. But in the background research skyrocketed and now there are 8 fully approved vaccines, 6 more in limited use, and about 90 in various stages of development. Because of this, we can hug our moms, we can eat with our medically vulnerable nephew, we can visit our pre-op elderly aunt, we can fly to see our kids without worrying that we are putting them in danger. It is miraculous.
Recently, a couple of people have asked me about whether there is any ethical problem with vaccines because some vaccine research for some types of shots used human cells that were derived decades ago from two babies whose tissue became available after an abortion. Many wise people have researched and spoken, including church leaders, saying, GET THE VACCINE. My answer is this: the ethics of getting a vaccine (which does NOT CONTAIN any fetal tissue mind you) I think parallel getting a liver transplant from a teen killed by a drunk driver. It is grievous that a child died, and that it was a death related to someone's choices that were wrong. But the family would take some comfort in knowing that the teen's liver saved others (we know that in our family as our cousin inadvertently met the family of his liver donor, which was deeply meaningful). The family of the aborted baby from decades ago has stated this themselves. The abortion was not done to provide tissue for research. But the tissue was redeemed as it was put to life saving use. It is also horrible that police or soldiers or firefighters die in the line of duty (though they have adult choice in the matter) but we thank them for their service particularly when their sacrifice saves others. For vaccines the ratio must be 2 to millions. Lastly, there are many many types of vaccines now and most do NOT involve the human cell line in their production. So if the ethics of donor tissue or of sacrifice for others does not compel you, get a viral vector or attenuated vaccine instead.
Secondly, people have feared vaccines because all reports of adverse effects have been taken out of context. If a disease would kill 100 people, and a vaccine would kill 1, would you get the vaccine or the disease? That's the kind of context needed to understand the rare clotting disorders seen in a handful of cases after some types of vaccine. Only the ratio of more like 10,000 times more dangerous to get the disease than the vaccine. No medicine, no minute of life, is completely safe. It is more dangerous to get in your car and drive to work for an hour ten times than it is to fly ten hours from London to Africa, but most people don't think that way. We tend to fear the sensational, the new, the newsworthy. We need facts and context.
But the real question comes down to this: are you willing to inconvenience yourself, perhaps have a headache or chills for a few hours, for the good of others? And that's where our character is seen. Will you wear a mask, stay six feet apart, stand outside, forgo a concert or movie, delay a trip . . . if it means your 85 year old mother gets to live ten more years and see her grandchildren grow up? We are proud of the way our family let go of their privileges, changed their habits, so that WE would get to see them again, so that we wouldn't have to hear about their hospitalisations while we were locked out of travel. Will you take a 1 in a million chance of a serious vaccine side effect so that as a world we can slow down the mutations and spread of a disease that has killed 3 million others?
We are so thankful that our family chose to vaccinate, and had the opportunity. And that we have been given the opportunity as well. India reminds us that this disease of COVID-19 is not over even now in 2021. As long as there are places in the world with poverty, crowding, low access to vaccines and treatment, misinformation, fear, political manoeuvring, poor health, and rampant spread . . the virus will continue to claim lives. And to change. And to become more infectious, or more lethal. We are all in this together.
For us, a month in rural West Virginia with forays to North Carolina and Virginia has been a miracle of ordinary days. Tomorrow we head West to see the other half of the family, Scott's mom Ruth for a week then Luke and Abby (and Jack again!) in Utah. We try to stay in touch with our teams, and there is still a lot of work going on. But we are so thankful for this time.