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Covid, Cancer, and Commentary

If you have spent time on social media recently, you have probably noticed the jokes about 2020. You know the ones; if 2020 were an elf, it would look like a chaotic mess! Or the dark abyss called and wants its year back. Everyone is ready to move on from this year, the quarantines, shutdowns, job losses, and most of all, lost lives. While a laugh is satisfying for the soul, it would be disingenuous of me to wish time away. If, like me, you are a survivor, then you know how precious time can be. This time in our lives may not be how we envisioned it, and we hold deep sympathy for so many who have had an incredibly challenging year. Taking their struggle as our own is not genuine sympathy; it is ego, and it does not help those impacted the most. Moreover, in times of trial, we see incredible triumphs, and we would be remiss if we moved on from this year without recognizing its impacts on our futures. If we take a moment to look for the positives, we will see something remarkable playing out right in front of our eyes.

Media outlets are clamoring over the vaccine development to fight COVID-19. Top outlets are posting daily updates and delving into when and who will get the vaccine. As a part of that news, we have learned that Pfizer and Moderna have released findings that their vaccines are over 90% effective and have filed for emergency use authorization. Pfizer realized this goal in conjunction with the real brains behind the vaccine, a company called BioNTech. At the helm of this company is CEO, Ugur Sahin, and his wife and Chief Medical Officer, Ozlem Tureci. The couple grew up in Germany and were brought to the country by their Turkish immigrant parents. They are so passionate about their research to fight cancer they are said to have spent part of their wedding day in the laboratory.

Their first company Ganymed, which means "earned through hard work" in Latin, developed precision antibody cancer therapies. In 2008, the couple founded BioNTech and were actively working with Pfizer to develop a flu vaccine. Pivoting from their original company's focus on cancer antibody therapies, they launched BioNTech to develop immunotherapy cancer treatments. Immunotherapies use messenger RNA (mRNA), thus triggering cells to produce proteins, and as a result, the body creates antigens to viruses or cancers. Their research of the mRNA technology was the inspiration they needed to develop a coronavirus vaccine. After hearing about the virus, Sahin quickly turned his company's focus to the fight against COVID-19, and by March, the company had 20 potential vaccines. BNT162b2, one of the vaccines that made it to trails, proved 90% effective in November of 2020. Traditional vaccines use weakened forms of the virus to trigger antigen production in the body. mRNA vaccine technology has never been used before in the human body. It is new to our fight against viruses and has significant implications in our fight against other diseases.

While the mRNA vaccine is new, the technology has been a subject of research for years. We may emerge from our global coronavirus tribulations triumphant against more viruses and diseases than just this one. If mRNA vaccines are successful, they present an opportunity for faster development and ease of scalability for the distribution of vaccines in the future. But as a cancer survivor, what hits closest to home is the possible use of these new therapies to fight deadly diseases like cancer.

When we think back on this year, I hope that we can do so with a little glimmer in our eyes. It was the year we learned to question ourselves, dig a little deeper, have difficult conversations, and support each other's wellness in ways we were too busy for before. Most of all, it was the year when true heroes became the real heroes they always were—the ones doing the difficult work on the front lines or in the laboratories every day to better our society.

A popular meme circulating this year states, "Nature is healing. We are the virus." We are not "the virus," but perhaps we, too, are healing in ways beyond our present perception, and for that, let us not wish time away. Let us give 2020 the credit it deserves because if you are reading this, you are still alive to witness the moments of brilliance emerging from the darkness.

For more information on understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines, please visit the CDC at Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines | CDC.



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