Adrian Florido from MediaFrolic speaks with Washington Post Columnist Steven Petrov on the reasons for optimism about 2022.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:
And our next guest has even more reason for hope and optimism this year. Steven Petrow is a Washington Post columnist and recently wrote an article entitled “Could 2022 be a Better, Healthier Year? Ten Reasons to Be Cautiously Optimistic”. He says buried under the grief and loss we witnessed in 2021, there are seeds of hope for the new year. Steven Petrow is joining me now to try to help us start this year in a better mood.
It’s a big job, Steven, but I’m ready to let you try. Warm welcome.
STEVEN PETROW: Adrian, I’m happy to be with you and I wish you a Happy New Year.
FLORIDO: Happy New Year.
Before we get into your list, I’m just curious – it is clear that we will face many challenges in the coming year. So what made you feel more optimistic than pessimistic about the new year? And I should correct that – cautiously optimistic.
PETROW: Careful, yes. And if I’m to be completely honest with you, I’m known at the Washington Post’s health department for being the naysayer, the curmudgeon who has the most trouble seeing the silver lining. So they said let’s give this to Steven. When he can find some reason to hope. maybe they actually exist. And then I interviewed and researched a lot. And yes, we even made up more than 10, but there are only 10 in this particular piece. And I think when people start seeing some of the gradual advancements we can feel better about where we are and where we are going.
FLORIDO: And because so many of our concerns over the past year have centered on health, you really got your list focused on health reasons to keep your heads high. But the first reason on your list is a little more nebulous. It’s resilience.
FLORIDO: What gives you hope in resilience?
PETROW: Well, you know, there was a University of Michigan poll in late 2021. And it found that 70% of Americans over 50 said they either felt the same level of resilience as they did before the pandemic – and resilience was defined as overcoming challenge, recovery, recovery – and 15% said they were actually more resilient to feel. You know, what I take away from it is that we’ve been through so much. And when you go through such a national trauma and come out – I wanted to say at the other end – but you come out in the middle or two thirds, you can look at yourself, you can look at your family and say, hey, I am still here. I managed to get through that. And so I think this is very important to us as we proceed with some form of this pandemic.
FLORIDO: There are a few items on your list that include innovations in health and medicine. They see much hope in the fact that the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are now widely available, but also in the fact that they were developed using mRNA, which could be quite important to science in the future. Why does that give you hope?
PETROW: Think back to January 2021. Vaccines were still in the experimental stage. We try health workers. We didn’t have access to them. And so, a year later, it’s a completely different world where we have the Pfizer, the Moderna, and the J&J vaccines, which were really all game changers. And it’s just, you know, this really is a miracle of science. And we’re also seeing the studies and effort we’ve put into vaccine development help us with other diseases. And the Pfizer and Moderna shots are messenger RNA vaccines – that’s the mRNA. And the use of mRNA has long fascinated researchers in the treatment of a number of other diseases, including flu, Zika, and rabies. But now researchers believe they can use mRNA to quickly develop safe and effective vaccines to treat cancer. And that’s a big deal. One example is the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which is currently doing a study of mRNA vaccines against pancreatic cancer and this is one of the deadliest malignancies. And I was really surprised to hear that despite all the challenges of this pandemic, they are actually a year ahead of schedule. So we can see other direct benefits from this mRNA research.
FLORIDO: You also say that we are winning the war on cancer – slowly, but there is a lot of progress.
PETROW: Fifty years ago, President Nixon declared war on cancer and hoped to resolve the problem within the decade. That didn’t happen. Here we are half a century later. But we saw a lot of benefits. And you know, if you’re looking for colon and breast cancer, death rates have come down significantly – 40% and 50%, respectively. If you look at lung cancer survival rates – five-year survival rates – they’re better now. So there has been progress. You know, we certainly need more progress, but that’s encouraging news. And hopefully we will continue in that direction.
FLORIDO: Okay. So we talked about resilience. We talked about health innovations. But they also list some of the things that the pandemic has helped us learn about ourselves and our communities and how we find community over the past few years. What are some of them? And why are these promising for the coming year?
PETROW: You know, I laugh a little here because I think almost everyone says they hates Zoom and Skype and so on.
FLORIDO: I’m one of those people.
PETROW: Yeah, I laugh a little bit at the question because we all say, you know, we hate Zoom and we hate Skype. And then, you know, these are not in real interactions. But, you know, we’ve learned to customize them, and we’ve learned to make connections. And that’s very – you know, it’s very important. And all that feeling of connection and community is happening online. You know, then there was a very big mental health crisis in this country, and as a result of these online apps and sites and communities, there is a lot more access to what is called teletherapy – or online therapy. So, you know, this is really an important way to get some of what we are witnessing going on after the pandemic, whenever that may be.
FLORIDO: OK, last on your list, Steven – you just want people to go outside, outside. Why would you want people to go outside more?
PETROW: Well, I don’t want to take her out. The way it is, science tells us that if we find any version of the outdoors, it will improve our sanity. It improves our physical health, cardiovascular health. And we have, you know, we’ve seen that for the past two years. And there are so many studies that suggest it. And that is something that we can also learn and take with us. You know, being outside wasn’t just for social distancing. It really is an essential part of our health and wellbeing. And I love what the Japanese do. They have this practice called forest bathing which really means being in nature. And you don’t have to be in the country to be in nature. You know you could be in Central Park. You can really be anywhere in Rock Creek, Washington, DC. And you’ll feel better, says science.
FLORIDO: OK, so before we let you go, I imagine there are people who listen to you and don’t buy them, who are skeptical of your list, who are still pretty pessimistic in 2022. Do you have any tips for that? People about things they can do to just bring a little more optimism into their lives?
PETROW: Well, I completely understand, and I have a deep vein of pessimism in my own body. But I think it’s important to look at the advances we’ve made in health and science, and the fact that we’ve managed to survive so far and see where that takes us. And one of the great sayings I like from my life in general is this: If you can imagine it, you can create it. I think with a little more imagination for the future we should be able to create a better country and a better community in the future.
FLORIDO: This is the Washington Post columnist, Steven Petrov.
Steven, thank you for joining us and happy new year.
PETROW: Adrian, the same for you. Thanks very much.
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