Reasons to be cautiously optimistic that 2022 could be a better, healthier year. Picture: Pexels
Reasons to be cautiously optimistic that 2022 could be a better, healthier year. Picture: Pexels

Reasons to be cautiously optimistic that 2022 could be a better, healthier year

By The Washington Post Time of article published Jan 1, 2022

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By Steven Petrow

2021 sure wasn't supposed to be this way.

After the long, locked-down nightmare that was 2020, 2021 dawned with the promise that vaccines would soon be widely available and bring an end to the horrifying death toll and a return to "normal" life.

Not so fast.

Instead, we argued about conspiracy theories and the constitutional right to go unmasked, while the virus continued to circulate (and mutate) and take more lives. About 61.9% of the US population is fully vaccinated, far short of the president Joe Biden administration's hopes. Then came delta. And now omicron.

Incredibly, more Americans have died of this virus in 2021, with vaccines readily available, than in 2020.

Suddenly, it seems, the light at the end of the tunnel has dimmed if not gone out.

Facing yet another year of illness and death, how could any of us be optimistic about 2022?

Why should anyone be optimistic? Why should anyone believe things will ever get better?

And yet, there is reason for hope - 9 reasons, in fact.

Buried under the layers of grief and loss, there are seeds of hope. Hope that science will prevail. Hope for new treatments and cures for the coronavirus and many other illnesses. Hope that life will get better, that our loved ones will stop dying and that this pandemic will become a dark memory instead of a daily reality.

Who's resilient? Why you are

"I think people can look forward to appreciating just how resilient they are by taking a look back at how they've endured the past two years," says Richard A. Friedman, a psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

More than 7 in 10 Americans, ages 50 to 80, said they feel the same level of resilience -overcoming challenges, recovering and bouncing back from adversity - as they did before the pandemic, according to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging. And 15 percent said they actually felt more resilient.

"Adversity is painful," Friedman said, "but it can also make us stronger and better."

We've learned what precautions to take to once again (mostly) live our lives

Biden was right when he said last week, "This is not March 2020." Nearly two years into the pandemic, we better understand how to take care of ourselves and our loved ones: get vaccinated and boosted, wear masks indoors, keep a distance and get tested.

Coronavirus testing and treatment, not just vaccines, will be the linchpins to the fight against coronavirus in 2022, says Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University, who argues draconian measures like lockdowns no longer work and it's time to move onto new strategies of containment.

Most schools and colleges reopened this year, as did some workplaces, and airports were once again packed this holiday season. N95 and KN95 masks are widely available online and in stores, as are disinfecting wipes and sprays.

(And, hurrah, toilet paper!) Starting in January, the federal government plans to distribute hundreds of millions of free at-home tests and to expand coronavirus testing sites across the country. And this month, the Food and Drug Administration approved two pills that high-risk patients with coronavirus can take at home to greatly reduce their chances of being hospitalized.

The success of mRNA vaccines bodes well for cancer treatments

The Pfizer and Moderna shots are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.

The use of mRNA has long intrigued researchers in treating a number of other diseases, including flu, Zika, rabies and cytomegalovirus.

Researchers now think that mRNA can be used to rapidly create safe and effective vaccines to treat cancer. One example: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center trials are underway testing mRNA vaccines against pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest malignancies.

This clinical trial is a year ahead of schedule, despite the challenges to perform such a complex study in the middle of a pandemic, said Vinod Balachandran, a surgeon-scientist at Sloan Kettering.

And we're winning the war on cancer - slowly

Fifty years ago, President Richard Nixon officially declared war on cancer, with the hope of eradicating cancer within the decade.

While that didn't happen, there has been slow but real progress in our understanding of cancer and in extending longevity and decreasing death rates. During that time frame, deaths from colorectal cancers decreased more than 50 percent and breast cancer by 40 %, according to the American Cancer Society.

When it comes to lung cancer, the No. 1 cancer killer, five-year survival rates have improved due to immunotherapies and targeted therapies.

Five years ago in December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which dedicates $1.8 billion in funding for cancer research over seven years - and cancer patients are now benefiting.

Scientists are regaining trust

The past two years revealed just how many Americans refuse to believe scientists, as the Internet filled with misinformation and conspiracy theories about the pandemic, coronavirus treatments and vaccine safety.

But according to a public-opinion poll conducted August 2020 to February 2021 by Gallup, 54% of Americans said they had "a lot" of trust in scientists, which was up nine percentage points from 2018, according to a report published in November by Wellcome Trust, a health research foundation in London.

Around the world, 43% of people surveyed in 113 countries said they trust scientists "a lot," an increase from 34% in 2018.

The FDA approved a new shot to prevent HIV

The news is looking up for combating other viruses, too. Until last week, the only PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) medications approved by the FDA were pills required to be taken daily, which for some proved challenging or unrealistic.

When taken every day, PrEP pills can reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by as much as 99 percent, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's "much less effective when it is not taken as prescribed."

Starting early in 2022, people will have another tool to fight transmission of HIV, an injectable drug called Apretude, given first as two injections one month apart and then once every two months.

The FDA approved it for "at risk" adults and teens weighing at least 35kg. Researchers say Apretude had been found to be more effective than previous PrEP medications like Truvada and Descovy at preventing HIV infection from sex.

The new jab gives us another shot at ending HIV .

Say buh-bye to West Nile, Zika and malaria

Genetic engineering of mosquitoes will finally make a real dent in malaria case numbers and may also help get rid of other insect-borne diseases.

Scientists reported in 2020 that they eradicated an entire population of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes by deploying a radical form of genetic engineering to render females infertile and therefore unable to reproduce.

(In 2019, more than 400,000 deaths from malaria were recorded worldwide.)

New trials are slated to start within the next few years, bringing fresh hope in the battle against one of the world's biggest killers, which could result in self-destroying mosquitoes being released within the coming decade.

Finding community online can be a very good thing

We've learned the benefits of joining virtual groups for all types of things, such as cancer support, business meetings and yoga classes.

They pull down barriers and open up access - and many groups plan to continue offering virtual options in 2022, even as gathering in person, we hope, becomes safer.

Teletherapy options grew exponentially amid the pandemic, which many therapists say has made it easier for those struggling with mental health issues to seek help and make it to their appointments. No worries about parking.

Being outdoors is good for our health

Fran Lebowitz, the New York author, once said, "To me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab."

If that was you pre-pandemic, you've probably changed your ways as you started dining alfresco and frequenting farmers markets. Maybe you even enjoyed an outdoor concert? Took a hike?

It's a good thing to be outside more, according to multiple studies.

Those benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced stress, improved mood, and decreased anxiety and depression, better focus and even quicker healing.

One study reported patients who spent time outdoors upon discharge after surgery required fewer painkillers, had fewer complications and experienced shorter hospital stays.

And don't forget the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing, which could improve cardiovascular and mental health.

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