This has been a year of terrible loss. People have lost loved ones to the pandemic. Many have gotten sick, and some are still suffering. Children have lost a year of school. Millions have lost a steady paycheck. Some have lost small businesses that they’d built for decades. Almost all of us have lost hugs and visits and travel and the joy of gathering together at a favorite restaurant and more.
And yet, this year has also taught us much. Strange as it may sound, the coronavirus pandemic has delivered blessings, and it does not diminish our ongoing suffering to acknowledge them. In fact, recognizing them increases the chance that our society may emerge from this ordeal more capable, more agile, and more prepared for the future.
Here are three ways the world has changed for the better during this awful year.
1. We now know how to code for our vaccines.
Perhaps the development that will have the most profound implications for future generations is the incredible advances in synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) biotechnologies.
We got our vaccines very fast—the previous record for vaccine development was four years, and that was set in the 1960s. This time, we developed multiple good COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year. Luck bought us some of that speed. For example, the HIV retrovirus is notoriously difficult to vaccinate against, and we still don’t have a vaccine for it. COVID-19 was much more susceptible, and billions of dollars in public money and a global sense of urgency pushed things along. Tragedy also sped things up: Because the pandemic was raging—more cases to test against—it was easier to get results from vaccine trials.
But amid all this came histor ..