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10 takeaways from HBO’s new documentary, “How to Survive a Pandemic”


Weve all been living through the pandemic. So how much could we learn from a documentary about it? Turns out, a lot.

HBOs new documentary, How to Survive a Pandemic is an emotional rollercoaster. It taps into how weve all felt over the past two years: from the sheer shock of it all, to the hope from the first promises of vaccines, to the frustration of realizing that weve still got a long way to go before achieving vaccine equity.

To spare you a seat on that rollercoaster ride, here are our 10 takeaways from How to Survive a Pandemic.

1. The early days were really scary.

Its easy to forget how uncertain the first days and months of the pandemic were, before we understood prevention methods and long before we had vaccines. The documentary transported us back to March 2020, with scenes of empty cities, endless Zoom calls and isolation, and stories of people losing their friends and family every day. Despite the sadness and occasional tears it brought us, its worth taking the time to remember just how much weve all been through over the past two years.

At that time, it truly felt like the world as we knew it died. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sums it up in one simple sentence: Were in the race of our lives.

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2. Vaccine manufacturers are heroes who worked tirelessly to find an exit strategy for COVID.

More than two years into the pandemic, vaccines and boosters are an accepted reality. But the documentary was an important reflection point to step back and remember to appreciate the scientists and doctors who lead the way out of the pandemic with their tireless work on safe and effective vaccines.

Scientists in the documentary explained how they set out to create vaccines in Hollywood speed. They knew tackling COVID-19 required developing vaccines precisely, accurately, quickly and they aimed to remove dead space from the vaccine development process and engage vaccine manufacturers more.

Important note: This didnt involve cutting any corners. Instead, it involved a remarkable and heroic level of effort to develop and test vaccines.

3. Local activists were heroes too.

The documentary showed local activists going door-to-door to inform people about COVID and the vaccine. These activists deserve a huge amount of credit for helping communities find a way out of the pandemic, and its as inspiring as it is admirable. They were particularly crucial in tackling vaccine hesitancy and misinformation through localized efforts and taking time to reach people where they were with the information they needed.

Throughout COVID-19, weve highlighted the importance of local activism. Read more stories.

4. There was some global cooperation.

The need for global cooperation was clear from the start. And the world got a few things right: China shared information about the virus, which helped vaccine manufacturers around the world move quickly. There were vaccine trials in Brazil and manufacturing agreements in India. But overall, a truly coordinated global effort was missing. Cue the first waves of frustration.

5. But experts knew that global access was necessary from the start.

Were asking all countries to be part of a global effort to ensure some people are vaccinated in all countries, not all people in some countries, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The documentary reminded us that medical professionals understood from the start that the vaccine needed to have global reach if we wanted to end the pandemic. Sadly, reality has played out very differently. And knowing that made watching all the commentary early on about the need for global cooperation to tackle the pandemic frustrating, to say the least.

6. Many of us take vaccine access for granted. We shouldnt.

News clips in the documentary reminded us of when vaccine trials were first announced and the small sense of hope we finally felt during the darkness of the pandemic. After watching the remarkable efforts on the vaccine unfold during the documentary, we got chills watching the first shipments going out. We all remember the coverage from the UK of the first non-trial vaccine recipient. Seeing that again brought back the hope we felt in early 2021 that we may finally return to some form of normal.

Its important to remember how remarkable having the vaccine within a year was (thanks, science!) and that easy access to vaccines still isnt a reality everywhere.

7. Vaccine inequity is linked to virus mutations.

The documentary illustrated this link excellently: where vaccination rates are low, clusters of the virus will continue to circulate and breakthrough into populations that are vaccinated. The virus will continue to mutate and new variants will continue to emerge in areas where vaccination rates are low.

And this doesnt just impact areas of low vaccination rates. This increases the chances of a variant that could, regardless of where you live, make current vaccines ineffective.

8. Politics shouldnt matter.

The documentary discusses the ongoing political climate throughout the first year of the pandemic in the US, Brazil, and elsewhere. Well keep our commentary on this short: In the face of a pandemic, politics shouldnt matter. When lives are at stake, world leaders should put politics aside.

9. Its OK to be frustrated.

Another takeaway from the documentary is that it is OK to be frustrated. Theres still a lot of uncertainty out there about how the pandemic will progress, and whether or not vaccines will get to vulnerable populations in time before a new variant arises. This is a frustrating time.

But if you want to ease some of that frustration, demand that leaders of rich countries get vaccines to those who need them the most so we can finally end the pandemic. Add your name to our petition.

10. Wed like to grab a drink with Dr. Tedros and Dr. Fauci.

Both are in the documentary, including in casual encounters. Dr. Tedros chats to a journalist in the WHO headquarters, a stark difference from his typical media briefs. And Dr. Fauci is seen donning a sweatshirt, a far cry from his usual suit and tie, with a fresh glass of wine on his patio. We have a question or two wed like to ask them over for happy hour one day.

Ready to end the pandemic once and for all? Sign our petition.

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