I knew I would write this first column of 2021 on this topic as far back as April or May of 2020.
The second week in December – as I wrote my monthly column – was the week we, in North America, would wait for Time magazine’s proclamation of its Person of the Year. And in the spring of 2020, it seemed obvious that the winner of this award would be related to this virus in some way.
Then the George Floyd incident occurred, and its aftermath ruptured us. And before that we had lost Kobe Bryant, a worldwide sporting icon. And I reminded myself that at that point there was still a US election to happen in the coming months.
Doubt began to creep into my mind. But I remained steadfast in my belief: it had to be healthcare’s time to shine. Look, it’s not a Nobel Prize by any stretch of the imagination.
The Queen certainly isn’t going to be knighting anyone over it. You won’t even get into the Guinness Book of World Records. And there’s probably an entire generation of people who haven’t even heard of the award.
Or worse yet, have heard of it and don’t care about it. But in this annus horribilis it could have helped provide some small recognition. It could have been a meaningful symbol of the sacrifices and contributions made.
Amid all the misinformation and disinformation about science, it might have recalibrated people’s thinking about one of our most venerable institutions.
In previous years the award has gone to ‘science’. In 1960, the award went to the collective referred to as ‘US Scientists’ and
in 1996 Dr David Ho won the award for his pioneering work in AIDS research.
As recently as 2014, the award went to the ‘Ebola Fighters’, a sure nod to pandemic response. There’s nothing wrong with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the chosen winners. But, in this year and at this time, this was not the right choice.
The award is widely acknowledged as being designed for ‘a person, a group, an idea, or an object that for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year’. In this year it had to be related to healthcare.
There was no other choice. Full stop. Let us count the ways we could have recognised healthcare with this award. The researchers who raced to sequence the virus’ genome.
The Chinese ophthalmologist who tried to warn his colleagues about this novel pneumonia in December 2019. Every single healthcare worker who treated patients, put themselves in harm’s way, were infected and/ or died from this scourge.
Every volunteer in the global Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and J&J trials. Every volunteer in all the other trials that I don’t have the room to mention. Anthony Fauci’s unwavering commitment to setting the record straight at every turn.
And for every other ‘Anthony Fauci’ in every other country in the world. Every public health official in every small town who tried to enforce rules to protect their citizens.
Every epidemiologist who pored over data and ran model after model to help us understand the numbers. To the World Health Organization employees and staff who have broken themselves trying to coordinate a response.
To the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and every other single foundation across the globe that has tried to raise money and ensure an equitable distribution of these vaccines.
Every bench researcher who spent countless hours trying to find a cure. Every member of the fragile healthcare supply chain family that had a hand in procuring vials, swabs and needles. Every company in every country that converted its manufacturing floor to make face masks or produce hand sanitiser.
Every laboratory technician who ran PCR test results by the millions to get us results as fast as possible. To all the contact tracers who tried to help governments understand community spread.
Every recovered patient who donated blood for convalescent plasma. Every patient who fought valiantly and helped us learn about how to better treat this disease through its fighting spirit. And every victim.
I know Time’s Person of the Year award is not that meaningful anymore. But it could have been, just one more time. Instead, this year’s award has become a simple and sad reminder of something even more simple and sad: we have stopped caring about and recognising the contributions of science.
The obvious choice was in plain sight.
I usually wouldn’t care about pop culture awards – this time is different.
This article was originally published here.