50 minutes | Sep 24th 2020

Warped Speed

The “warp speed” race for a COVID vaccine is a sort of lesson in bio-capitalism under pressure, as well as in pandemic politics. The vaccine tracker in the New York Times online charts almost 100 companies and teams, like horses in the Derby, testing 40 vaccines now on human beings, many more on animals. Real insiders follow company chances on the stock market. President Trump had hoped out loud for a certified “winner” by election day, or the end of the year. It’s Big Pharma, for a change, saying “hold your horses,” no vaccine before it’s time. It’s the public, oddly enough, that’s wary: how is it 40 percent of the people say they wouldn’t take the COVID vaccine anytime soon? Many doctors wouldn’t let them.

An artist’s rendering for NASA of warp speed by way of wormhole.

Around Kendall Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they’ll tell you straight out, “This is where American drug discovery occurs.” Nowadays it’s where a global spotlight shines on scores of labs mixing, tweaking, testing COVID vaccines. In a notorious sports capital, the vaccine race to save the species, no less, is a sort of fix for the COVID eclipse of big-league football and baseball excitement: Tom Brady gone forever, no fans allowed in Fenway Park. DNA science, meantime, has become a prize local industry. The pharmacological start-up Moderna, breaking ground in RNA therapy, figures in national news every day and in street chatter, too.

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