On being ... offensive

By Ingrid Sapona

The pandemic is still raging in much of the world. That’s the bad news. The good news is there are multiple vaccines that minimize the chances of those inoculated ending up in the hospital or dying from Covid-19. These facts alone make getting vaccinated a no brainer for many of us. 

But getting a vaccine isn’t just about protecting yourself. Doing so protects others by lessening the chances of spreading the virus. Also, if the virus is left to circulate, the chances of it mutating increase. The so-called variants of concern (VOCs) are of concern because they can cause more severe illness or can be more virulent. Though the vaccines work on the current VOCs, they might not be effective against new mutations. In short, getting the jab is a win-win: it’s good for you and good for society.  

Here in Canada, public health folks and political leaders have urged us to “take the first jab that you’re offered.” That plea reflects the fact that in Canada the supplies of vaccines have sometimes been spotty. In fact, because of this, Ontario has decided it’s best to get first vaccines into as many arms as possible, rather than using some of the supply for second dose. Under this plan, folks will get their second dose as supplies are replenished.  

Vaccine “skepticism” isn’t as big an issue in Ontario as it is in the U.S. According to the provincial government, as of May 9th, 48% of Ontarians 18 or older have received their first vaccine. That figure is all the more impressive, I think, given the confusion and somewhat conflicting news about risks related to the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, one of the approved vaccines here in Canada. The concerns relate to reports of serious blood clots.  

Though the blood clot issue was troubling, in early March I gladly received a jab of the AZ vaccine. My rationale was that the risks associated with getting Covid were higher and worse than the blood clot risk. In fact, many of my friends who also qualified for the AZ vaccine at that time took it. Since then, eight Ontarians have suffered from blood clots associated with the AZ vaccine and this week Ontario paused the use of it. So, for those of us who got the initial dose of AZ, it’s not clear what we might get in terms of a second. But, 14 months into the pandemic, I’ve come accept such uncertainty. After all, it seems clear that the only way we’ll make it through to the other side of the pandemic is with a healthy does of prudence and patience.  

Here in Ontario, we’re currently suffering through the third – and by far worst – wave. Since Christmas we’ve been living with many restrictions on our activities and travel. By and large, people have complied and folks seem to agree that mass vaccination is the surest way to return to something akin to normal.  

At this point, supply of vaccines isn’t so much an issue here. Instead, the problem is around logistics and just bad planning by those in charge of vaccine distribution. The inevitable problems that arise when millions of people try to register on-line have been compounded by issues around who should administer vaccines. At first, only regional health officials were going to be used. Eventually, however, pharmacies were also tapped as a resource.  

Originally the government distributed vaccines across the province in an equal manner. (No politician wanted to be seen as favouring one group or region over another, after all.) More recently, however, the province realized it should offer more vaccines in “hot spots” – areas and workplaces where the positivity rate is highest. This strategy is being implemented, in part, using “pop up” vaccine clinics. Pop ups are great for those plugged into social media, where you can get rapid updates about the length of line-ups and the number of doses still available. For others, however, pop ups aren’t that helpful. Thankfully, a bunch of digitally savvy community volunteers formed a group called Vaccine Hunters to help people register for vaccines and to keep people up-to-date on where they can find them. That’s how keen people are here to get vaccinated!  

So, with this backdrop, you can imagine how folks here feel when they hear about the lengths U.S. leaders are going to to bribe Americans to get a Covid vaccine. A few days ago, for example, we heard that New York’sgovernor authorized free vaccines to folks attending Toronto Blue Jays games in Buffalo in June. The shots will be available to ticket holders on their way into the game. Nice gesture, sure. But for Jays fans who live north of the border, it’s rather bittersweet, given that we can’t get down to Buffalo for games (or a jab) because the Canada – US border remains closed.  

And then there was the governor of Ohio’s announcement of “Vax a Million” (that’s what he called it!) – a weekly draw that’ll pay out five $1 million dollar prizes. The lottery, which starts on May 26th, is open to all Ohio residents who are 18 or older and who have been vaccinated. (There will also be five draws for full-ride scholarships to state universities for Ohio teens who get vaccinated.) Apparently 42% of Ohio residents have had one vaccine to date, but the rate at which people have gotten vaccinated has dropped nearly 80% since early April.  

Ohio and New York aren’t the only states offering residents incentives for vaccinating. Maine is offering free hunting and fishing licenses, LL Bean gift cards, and other prizes. West Virginia is offering vaccinated residents aged 16-35 $100 savings bonds. New Jersey has a program where folks 21 and over can get a free beer when they get vaccinated. Various companies and employers are also offering prizes and give-aways to vaccinated customers and employees.  

While I think it’s fine if someone wants to offer a small token to encourage people to act promptly (folks who may have been too busy to find time) or to recognize their effort. To me that’s like giving a kid a lollypop after they go to the doctor – a feel-good gesture. But feeling you need to bribe citizens to the tune of $1 million to take a vaccine to help end a pandemic that has taken over 3.3 million lives world-wide is very different. Frankly, it’s offensive.  

At a time when billions of people around the world are desperate for the vaccine, how dare some people not realize that the vaccine is the prize.  

© 2021 Ingrid Sapona 


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