Missed Shots: Science Revisits its 2020 Breakthrough of the Year

Missed Shots: Science Revisits its 2020 Breakthrough of the Year

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout was a spectacular success – and a stunning tragedy.

Science, 2021

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A year after approvals of the COVID-19 vaccines, an examination of what went right and wrong with them reveals a mixed bag of success and tragedy. Meanwhile, the virus rages on, propelled by persistent global distribution inequities and abject disinformation clouded by politics. 


One year after the COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough, its rollout represents both triumph and tragedy.

The speed at which COVID-19 vaccines were created and their proven efficacy surpassed scientific expectations. But their introduction to the human population proved a less than stellar event. Even though the messenger RNA vaccines provided 95% protection from severe illness, that efficacy waned over time. COVID-19 began to spawn mutations. The distribution of billions of doses faced massive logistical problems, made more difficult by a volatile political atmosphere.

Millions have been saved by the vaccines, but millions more refused the free treatment. Enough shots have been produced to vaccinate the most vulnerable on the entire planet – more than eight billion. But the shots have not been equitably distributed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of needless...

About the Author

Kai Kupferschmidt is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine based in Berlin, Germany. He writes about infectious diseases as well as food science, nutrition, evolution and science policy.

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