This week in 1979, a commission of scientists declared smallpox eradicated. It was a medical triumph and a historic feat — no other human disease had been completely eradicated before, nor has any since.

It’s also been lauded as the biggest achievement in public health history. How could a disease that killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone, and still has no known treatment or cure, be eradicated?

“It was eradicated solely through vaccination,” Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease expert at South Nassau Communities Hospital in New York, told Live Science.

The message should be clear for the generations now living through the COVID-19 pandemic: Effective vaccines do their job; they prevent or severely decrease the possibility of infection. 

In some places, the COVID-19 vaccine has already arrived. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine began distribution in the United Kingdom this week, with the first patients receiving doses Tuesday. Canada should follow shortly after. Vaccination in the U.S., too, could begin in days. While it will take months for all Americans to receive a vaccine, there is certainly a light at the end of the tunnel.

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Utah tops ‘tragic’ 1,000 deaths, but officials see hope with promise of COVID-19 vaccine

As that hope comes, though, the country and this state have reached somber milestones. On Thursday, Utah passed 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths. This week, the U.S. reported 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths in one day for the first time. Consider that 2,977 Americans were killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Vigilance in following health protocols now and widespread reception of a vaccine is the only way out.

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As we have argued before, a vaccine will only be effective if a large majority of Americans choose to be vaccinated. Hesitancy and skepticism are understandable. No vaccine has ever been produced as quickly. But reasonable worries, like temporary side effects, should be viewed in context of the vaccine’s collective potential: to bring our society, our economy and our lives closer to “normalcy” and prevent future lives lost to this disease.

Americans should also take heart at the promise of institutions doing their job. The Food and Drug Administration has been transparent and methodical as it weighs the validity of vaccines for public use.

Spreading falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines is wrong. An effective and approved vaccine will save lives. Delaying the distribution or fomenting distrust will harm real lives.

In our opinion: Trust in a vaccine is crucial to immunizing the country

Scientists don’t yet know if COVID-19, like smallpox, will ever be gone for good. What we do know, though, is that the path to collective immunity and decreased death is through serious vaccination efforts. And until that point, masks, hand-washing and proper distancing will still be the best safeguards.

Gov.-elect Spencer Cox knows how meaningful these vaccines could be for the state, and in turn, the world. “This really is the miracle we’ve all been praying for and hoping for,” he told the media Thursday. “There should be great anticipation, there should be excitement, and more than anything else there should be hope. There is an end to this pandemic and the end is coming.”