By Pauline Kerr
Truckers are … different. It takes a unique kind of independent spirit to spend long hours on the road, traveling from one side of the country to the other, away from the family and community supports most of us take for granted.
That independent spirit kept store shelves filled and Canada’s economy moving forward during the terrifying early days of COVID. Truckers literally risked their lives. Working from the comfort of home doesn’t get medical equipment, food, electronics, building supplies, pharmaceuticals, and – yes – toilet paper to where there is a desperate need for it. That takes someone in the driver’s seat of an 18-wheeler.
Now, two years later, people including truckers are tired of COVID, tired of masks, tired of vaccination certificates. We want everything to be over so life can get back to normal.
Anyone who has watched a COVID-positive loved one struggle for every breath understands it is neither a simple cold nor a government conspiracy. The disease that can be relatively benign in some, puts others in intensive care, or the morgue. It is horrifyingly real and quite frightening, except to people in the fortunate position of not knowing anyone who has been hospitalized with, or died from the disease.
Those of us who acknowledge that COVID is real, view the truckers’ protests as an expression of frustration, of anger. We hear them. We, too, are fed up with COVID restrictions.
Perhaps we need to step back in time to take a look at what happened during the last pandemic, when people became fed up with bans on public gatherings and other measures to limit the spread of the Spanish Flu. Those protests worked well, so much so that the government backed off. The subsequent death toll from the disease skyrocketed, surpassing that of earlier stages of the pandemic.
The same thing could happen with COVID, even though we have a vaccine. While it is not 100 per cent effective – no vaccine is – it works quite well in both preventing the disease and keeping people who do contract it out of the ICU. Approximately 80 per cent of Canadians have had at least two doses of vaccine, and about half of us a third dose.
The problem is the vaccine loses its effectiveness with time, especially in people whose immune systems do not work well – those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes and the extreme elderly, for example. As much as we would like it to be a single shot that offers lifetime immunity, it is not. In all likelihood, that COVID shot will become an annual one, formulated for each season’s dominant variant like a flu shot.
The trigger for the truckers’ rally in Ottawa was the decision that as of Jan. 15, there would be stricter vaccination requirements for truckers entering Canada. The protesters are demanding that those requirements be lifted.
However, it is clear that this is more than an anti-vaccination rally. Some of the protesters urinated on the National War Memorial and danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The statue of Terry Fox was defaced. Confederate flags and swastikas appeared, along with signs covered with expletives.
The “Freedom Convoy” is raising a lot of questions about the subject of freedom, and the tomb that honours the thousands who fought and died for our freedom. We respect the protesters’ right to voice their opinions, to criticize government decisions, to express views that may not mesh with those of others.
That said, a lot of vaccine-hesitant people have clenched their teeth and got the shot to protect their jobs, without honking horns for days, scaring the living daylights out of people, and urinating on revered monuments.
To be free of COVID mandates before being free of COVID would seem to be putting the cart before the horse, or in this case, the trailer before the cab.
The irony with rallying to end COVID vaccination requirements is that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over. All the protests in the world will not make it so, but vaccines could.