By Pauline Kerr
Christmas came early, with approval by Health Canada for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
It marked the official start to what will become the largest vaccination campaign in Canadian history.
First to get the vaccine, as soon as it becomes available, will be residents of long-term care homes and the health care professionals who look after them – the group hit hardest by the pandemic.
Despite efforts to protect long-term care residents through limits on visiting and the type of visits permitted, as well as measures to stop staff from working in more than one facility, COVID-19 continues to run rampant among our most vulnerable citizens. Homes that were COVID-free during the first wave of the pandemic have had devastating outbreaks in the second.
Once our fragile seniors and their caregivers are vaccinated, visits from family and friends can resume on a more normal basis, along with activities and social programs. That would truly be a wonderful Christmas gift.
After that, the vaccine will be made available to others, with priority given to people in high-risk areas and work environments.
Healthy, younger people in low-risk professions, who live and work around here – an area with low COVID numbers – will be further down the list.
It will take time to get everyone vaccinated. But at some point in the new year, we should begin to see results in terms of lower death rates, lower rates of infection, lower numbers of people hospitalized.
This will translate into more retail shops open for business, and fewer restrictions on our freedom to socialize and celebrate. And what a wonderful gift that will be!
There is one thing that could mess it up – anti-vaxxers trying to persuade people the vaccine is dangerous, a government conspiracy, a hoax, or simply something that should be up to them to choose – or not.
When the second wave of the pandemic hit with full and deadly force, there was an alarming and dangerous amount of resistance to precautions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Precautions included limits to the number of people allowed at a gathering – basically anyone outside one’s household. But people continued having house parties and larger events, sometimes openly flaunting the rules and posting photos on social media.
And there are the anti-maskers, a high-decibel group that is big on personal rights and low on community responsibility. Those large rallies of unmasked people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, hollering about freedom not only have the appearance of creating a perfect environment for spreading COVID, but make up a pool of folks who will likely resist vaccinations as well.
No one likes wearing masks, but most of us recognize the need to add a barrier to sneezing, coughing and exhaling germs all over the place. Masks help, distancing helps, hand-washing helps, limiting contact with other people helps. I wear a mask to protect you; you wear a mask to protect me. I get vaccinated not only to protect myself, but to protect my family, friends and neighbours. It is the socially responsible thing to do, until the pandemic is over.
Anti-vaxxers could make that take a lot longer than it needs to. A certain percentage of the population has to be vaccinated before the disease stops spreading – something called herd immunity. As long as the number of vaccinated people remains below that herd immunity threshold, COVID will circulate among unprotected people. Masks will be with us for a while yet. How long remains to be seen.
Even if herd immunity is achieved in Canada, we will still have to contend with visitors from other countries including the United States.
Still, that vaccine offers us a vision of what Christmas will be – a holiday filled with fun, everyone crowded around the dinner table, no one wearing masks.
The anti-vaxxers can play the Grinch, stealing future Christmases, or they can curb their anti-social tendencies and let us enjoy a Christmas without COVID. It will not be this year but it could be next year.
Let this be a heart-felt wish for COVID-free Christmases yet to come!