By Pauline Kerr
There is a popular saying, that when you are up to your ears (or other portions of your anatomy) in alligators, it is hard to remember your objective was to drain the swamp.
Regarding COVID-19 vaccines, we feel as if the alligators are closing in as we become aware that Canada’s contracts with foreign suppliers may not be enough to hold our place near the front of the line.
Securing those contracts early in the game sounded like a reasonable tactic, but as we are realizing, this is a global pandemic. Other countries, including those with which Canada has contracts, have their own priorities that may conflict with ours.
The virus is mutating, as coronaviruses are prone to do. More virulent forms are appearing as the “second wave” sweeps across the globe. There are calls in Europe for vaccines to be used domestically before being shipped abroad in spite of contracts, reminders from poorer countries that vaccinating only the residents of North America and Europe will prove futile in ending the global pandemic, and questions here at home about redistributing vaccines from regions with low numbers to “hot zones.”
The fact is, we have more than one tool at our fingertips for battling COVID-19. We tend to forget the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in Africa was brought under control by bleach, gloves and rubber boots. The basic measures that brought the first wave of COVID under control – hand washing, masks and distancing – still work. In addition, Canada is well on its way to producing vaccines domestically. It is only a matter of time before every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated, is.
Speaking of Ebola, it has not gone away. In June, 2020, the World Health Organization announced a new outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That country is also battling the world’s largest measles outbreak, a disease that has killed far more people in that country than COVID.
Canada is implementing new travel restrictions in an attempt to keep people from bringing variants of the COVID virus into this country – at least until enough people are vaccinated to create herd immunity. Making people isolate in hotels, at their own expense, for a few days after their return may discourage cash-strapped students from spending March break someplace warm, but it will not stop world travel. It is only a matter of time before someone brings home a disease far scarier than COVID.
During the battle against COVID, we have put a number of issues on the back burner. Some are medical. People have had surgery and treatment for serious medical conditions postponed or cancelled. That post-holiday spike in COVID-19 hospital admissions will cost lives indirectly as well as directly.
Some are social. During the pandemic, it has become increasingly difficult to get help for those battling addictions and mental illnesses. Support groups are unable to meet, therapists’ offices are closed and people are staying away from emergency departments.
And some are both. Little has been done in our long-term care homes to change the factors that made their fragile, elderly residents so vulnerable to COVID. The focus on battling outbreaks in these homes, and getting workers and residents vaccinated, has been so intense that there is a danger of attention shifting away from staff shortages and poor working and living conditions.
People who are homeless are hesitant to go to shelters even in the harshest of weather. COVID has resulted in fears about contracting the virus as well as fewer beds available.
While more fortunate 20-somethings are hatching plans to wear wigs and borrow Grandma’s identification to get vaccinated at a seniors-only clinic so they can resume karaoke at their favourite bar, there are people suffering frostbite and worse from living on the streets.
Getting people vaccinated is not the objective – it is keeping the death toll as low as possible until we win the war against COVID. Difficult though it is to remember with alligators snapping at our heels, draining the swamp is the only effective solution to the alligator problem.