The physics of COVID-19 vaccine momentum (and opposition)

Written by Derek Monson

December 14, 2020

In society, some actions seem to follow a form of Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion: they generate an equal and opposite reaction. That seems to be true in the case of the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. Momentum toward the success of the vaccine leads to – even galvanizes – opposition to its success.

The first vaccinations are underway in the U.S. this week after the federal Food and Drug Administration gave an emergency-use authorization to the vaccine developed by U.S. company Pfizer and German company BioNTech. After broad testing on thousands of American volunteers, the initial dose proved 88% effective against severe COVID-19 within one week, and after a second dose a month later effectiveness rose to 95%. High rates of effectiveness were found among both older and younger participants, men and women, and across different races and ethnicities.

The FDA also reported that the vaccine showed “a favorable safety profile, with no specific safety concerns.” Some fatigue and, less commonly, muscle or joint pain was reported for one or two days after receiving the second dose by those who received the vaccine. Doctors describe these side effects as signs that the vaccine is in fact generating the proper immune response.

This continues a string of recent good news on the vaccine development front. At the same time, opponents to vaccines are gaining momentum as well.

In the same week that the FDA began taking steps toward authorizing the first COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S., it was reported that opponents to vaccines are taking steps to mobilize and “rebrand” opposition to requiring people to get a COVID vaccine. There is opposition both to public policies that might mandate vaccination and to requirements from private sector employers or healthcare systems to get vaccinated.

Opponents of vaccine mandates are collaborating with groups across the political spectrum that have opposed public health measures like stay-at-home orders or mask requirements. Only time will tell whether these groups will prove effective in meeting their goals.

As political physics generates similar boosts to momentum for opposing causes, we can be grateful that the Christmas and New Year’s holidays bring not only the kind of hope that we are used to feeling at this time of year, but also a hope that post-pandemic life is in sight. Such optimism, if we allow it, can be a force for helping responsible citizens resolve that post-pandemic life will be changed for the better politically, socially, economically and otherwise, because of lessons learned from the experience of 2020.

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