Canada’s pandemic started in national unity amidst failure; it is ending in division and recrimination, even as we move toward victory. We should be getting ready to celebrate our VE Day; instead, many people are acting like the past two years were merely a warm-up to a future of feverishly polarized politics.
So let’s take a step back and talk about what almost everyone – most Canadians, every premier, all parties in Parliament – can agree on: The effectiveness of vaccinations.
If more Canadians were vaccinated – roughly one in 10 adults and teens have yet to get their first shot – the number of people hospitalized would be far lower. It was true last month, it’s true this month, and it will be true next month. The data don’t lie.
Severe outcomes from COVID-19 are highly concentrated among the elderly, people with underlying conditions and the unvaccinated. An otherwise healthy person who is fully vaccinated and boosted can contract Omicron, but their risk of hospitalization is quite low.
As such, the vaccinated majority appears to be in a position of being sufficiently protected to start moving on and “living with” COVID. It’s a different story for the unvaccinated. They continue to disproportionately fill our hospitals. The most recent data from Ontario’s COVID-19 science table peg their risk of hospitalization as six times higher, and their odds of ICU admission are 12 times higher.
Those are the facts. What do we do about them?
That’s the question a lot of Canadians are asking right now. Most are just regular people who are understandably tired after two tiring years. They want to know: Can we get Canada back to something like the pre-2020 normal, and to the point where we are living with COVID rather than having our lives, our economy and our society hamstrung by COVID?
Back when the first wave of COVID-19 hit, the goal of public-health measures – all those weeks of everything being closed – was preventing infections. At the time, we had no ability to break the connection between infection and illness. We had no vaccines. Two years later, we’re in a much better position. We still cannot entirely prevent COVID-19 infections. But we’ve got vaccines that can largely stop infections from turning into hospitalizations. It’s just that for vaccines to be effective, people have to get vaccinated.
That’s one of the challenges Canada faces, as governments consider which public-health measures to remove, and when. The irony is that the measures a vocal minority are most loudly protesting – notably vaccine mandates and passports – are all about nudging those same people into finally getting vaccinated.
There are some public-health measures that no longer make sense. For example, why must international air travellers be tested on arrival, at public expense? When the goal was stopping infections at the border, it was logical. But that’s no longer the goal.
As for wanting all truckers to be vaccinated, this page has repeatedly pointed out that of course that’s a good objective – but truckers, who largely work alone in hermetically sealed cabs, are honestly not a high-priority profession for mandatory vaccination.
As for insisting that people be vaccinated in order to get on a plane or go to a restaurant, this page has consistently supported vaccine passports as a way of nudging up the vaccination rate. But after months of experience, are they still the most effective way to reach that goal?
That’s not a rhetorical question. It’s an honest question.
As for the convoy of freedom riders, they have it all backward: They want all restrictions lifted, while rejecting the one thing that dramatically lowers the risk of lifting restrictions. They want the pandemic over, while refusing to do the thing that most contributes to ending it. It makes no sense. And yet, here we are.
Canada is never going to get to a 100-per-cent-vaccination level. The country is nevertheless about to wind back restrictions (some provinces irresponsibly, others steadily but cautiously) and try to find a way to live with COVID. But all of this would be so much easier if the unvaccinated minority was so much smaller.
Our best hope of avoiding future waves may come down to reaching more of the unvaccinated. Reasonable politicians of all stripes should be able to agree on that. Agree on the “what,” before debating the “how.”
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