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Shots of hope

In March, when cases of COVID-19 began to overwhelm hospitals in the United States, I told my 90-year-old mother that she had to shelter in place. She lives alone in Los Angeles, and to keep her company, I FaceTimed her every night. In the role reversal that happens with time, I became the forever-worried, nagging parent, and she was the ever-doubting, defiant child.

Over my increasingly loud objections, she'd gone to the mall with her sister, had her nails done, and lost 56 cents playing mahjong with “the girls.” The world she knew was dying, and after a few weeks of denial, bargaining, and anger, she finally entered the grief stages of depression and acceptance and quarantined herself.

My mother's loneliness, fear, and boredom sometimes make me feel like our chats are jailhouse visits on phones separated by a glass wall. “I didn't leave my house today—again,” she says, day after day, as though it were my fault. “Same everything. Same nothing.” And she plaintively asks the same question. “When is this going to end?”

For my mother and countless others, life was put on hold this year. But in biomedicine, progress has been astonishingly fast. Just weeks ago it culminated in what the world needs to answer my mother's question: safe, effective vaccines against COVID-19.

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