The rapid development and rollout of coronavirus vaccines is one of the biggest news stories in recent memory. As the novel and highly communicable virus began spreading at the end of 2019, the hunt for a vaccine began in early 2020, relying heavily upon a foundation of knowledge created by little-known scientists and researchers. By the time vaccines were being injected into arms at the end of 2020, the United States had lost hundreds of thousands of people to covid-19.
A story this expansive and consequential could surely fill many books. (Think of how many have been written about the 1918 influenza pandemic.) So it really isn’t surprising that two journalists have tackled the same big story in separate new books — with similar titles and stark covers featuring syringes. The books offer dueling tales of how coronavirus vaccines were developed in what seemed like record time. While they cover some of the same territory and quote some of the same people, the books largely shine their respective lights on different narrative slices of the story.
The second week of July marked the first string of days this year where I could not go outside because of my multiple sclerosis-related heat sensitivity. What makes 2020 different from the five other summers in which I’ve dealt with this particular MS symptom? There’s a pandemic going on.
I wrote a piece for the website The Mighty about the confluence of the two illnesses. Here’s how it starts:
Today was the first summer day in 2020 when stepping outside the house made me feel as though I was going to vomit. The moderate heat, combined with high humidity, enveloped me and made me instantly feel ill.
Somewhere, deep inside my brain, signals went haywire. The temperature regulation area of my brain has been damaged by my relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), meaning I can’t tolerate heat and humidity. Subjecting my body to such conditions results in nausea and/or vomiting, dizziness, blurry vision with bright lights in the corners of my eyes, and a weakening of my legs, as though my thighs have been infused with Jell-O.
Gary Chester — whose wife Cathy Chester, an MS advocate & writer, blurbed my memoir — said the book is not just recommended for MS patients, but also for those who love them:
As a caregiver, I appreciated O’Brien’s role as a tour guide through the labyrinth of a seemingly healthy individual experiencing early symptoms of MS to the ultimate diagnosis and its consequences. The journey is not one of clinical observations that many MS patients and loved ones can check-off as they proceed through the book. It is a personal diary of the frustration, doubts, worries, and grievances of almost any MS patient.
Chester added, “She transports us through the dread in a manner that is thoroughly readable and relatable.”