Let's take a moment to honor the unsung Moderna vaccine trial volunteer who died of COVID-19

It's been nine months since we found ourselves thrust into a global pandemic the likes of which the world hasn't seen in a century. Now here we are on the precipice of administering vaccines that will hopefully put an end to it, many months ahead of the expected schedule.

The speed with which scientists and pharmaceutical companies have raced to figure out how to make a novel virus vaccine both safe and effective has been impressive to say the least. It's a testament to modern medicine, innovation, and dedication on the part of the scientists who have worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition.

As of today, Moderna is asking for FDA approval of its mRNA vaccine, which trials show to be 94.1% effective in preventing coronavirus infection and 100% effective at preventing severe cases. Pfizer's vaccine has shown similar effectiveness.


While many people may be skeptical of a vaccine created in such a short period of time, experts have expressed confidence in the safety data that's been released so far. But there's one big element to the safety data that doesn't get focused on nearly as much as it should—the courageous volunteers who literally risked their lives so that scientists could learn whether their work actually works and the rest of us can feel safe (or at least safer) getting a new vaccine.

When people volunteer to test new vaccines, they're not only agreeing to whatever surprise side effects the vaccine might cause, but they're also at a higher-than-average risk of being exposed to the disease the trial is testing for. And since trial participants don't know if they are receiving the actual vaccine or a placebo, there is very real risk of having no protection whatsoever from said disease.

While the numbers from the Moderna trial indicate a resounding success, it came with a tragic-but-necessary cost. The way a trial works is that some participants receive the vaccine being tested, and others receive a placebo that doesn't do anything. While none of the actual vaccine recipients became severely ill with COVID-19 in the Moderna trial—which vaccine researcher Paul Offit says is "absolutely remarkable"—30 of the 185 people who contracted symptomatic cases of the virus in placebo group did develop severe cases. And one person in the placebo group died what Moderna has called "a COVID-19-related death."

We don't know the name of the individual who died. But we do know that they knowingly and willingly risked their own life to save millions more, and such a sacrifice should not go unrecognized. Whoever this nameless, unsung hero was, we salute them.

Our gratitude must also extend to those who became severely ill from the virus in the trial, as well as everyone who volunteered to take on the risks to help science do its thing.

So far, there are reported side effects that one might expect from any vaccine—tenderness in the injection spot as well as some people reporting flu-like symptoms for a day or so as the vaccine kicked their body into fighting gear—but they didn't know what unexpected reactions there might be going into it. Volunteers get compensated for travel and time they have to take off of work to go to appointments, but it's not like they're making real money. It's a real sacrifice with an unknown outcome, and many volunteers express that they signed up because they wanted to do something to be helpful.

So thank you to the tens of thousands of people who volunteered to take one for the team, putting their own health on the line to save us from further pandemic suffering. While we celebrate the scientists whose knowledge and skill and collaboration have brought us vaccines in record time, let's also cheer for the everyday folks who offered up themselves as guinea pigs to help us move past the pandemic and help humanity return to normal life. We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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Images via Canva and Unsplash

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on, it's that being in a pandemic sucks.

However, we seem to be on different pages as to what sucks most about it. Many of us are struggling with being separated from our friends and loved ones for so long. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus, while others are dealing with ongoing health effects of their own illness. Millions are struggling with job loss and financial stress due to businesses being closed. Parents are drowning, dealing with their kids' online schooling and lack of in-person social interactions on top of their own work logistics. Most of us hate wearing masks (even if we do so diligently), and the vast majority of us are just tired of having to think about and deal with everything the pandemic entails.

Much has been made of the mental health impact of the pandemic, which is a good thing. We need to have more open conversations about mental health in general, and with everything so upside down, it's more important now than ever. However, it feels like pandemic mental health conversations have been dominated by people who want to justify anti-lockdown arguments. "We can't let the cure be worse than the disease," people say. Kids' mental health is cited as a reason to open schools, the mental health challenges of financial despair as a reason to keep businesses open, and the mental health impact of social isolation as a reason to ditch social distancing measures.

It's not that those mental health challenges aren't real. They most definitely are. But when we focus exclusively on the mental health impact of lockdowns, we miss the fact that there are also significant mental health struggles on the other side of those arguments.

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True

If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Welcometoterranova and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Welcometoterranova-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.

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When Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin and his wife, Sarah Bloom, announced the death of their 25-year-old son Tommy on New Year's Eve, the whole nation mourned with them. Many also quietly wondered what had caused his death. It's not anyone's business, of course. But when a young, seemingly healthy person dies unexpectedly at home, the question lingers.

Rep. Raskin provided an honest answer to that question in a way that is both heartbreaking and perfect. In a statement published on Medium, Raskin and Bloom shared the details of Tommy's life so beautifully, it makes anyone who reads it feel like we knew him. It also exemplifies how to talk about a loved one who is taken by mental illness.

The statement opens:

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via Budweiser

Budweiser beer, and its low-calorie counterpart, Bud Light, have created some of the most memorable Super Bowl commercials of the past 37 years.

There were the Clydesdales playing football and the poor lost puppy who found its way home because of the helpful horses. Then there were the funny frogs who repeated the brand name, "Bud," "Weis," "Er."

We can't forget the "Wassup?!" ad that premiered in December 1999, spawning the most obnoxious catchphrase of the new millennium.

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