Sabrina Almeida

Over the past few days, several friends have made it a point to share news of their elderly loved ones living across the world who have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. The relief in their voices was palpable given the COVID-19 crisis Ontario’s long-term care homes are drowning in and the fear other seniors and their families are living with.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the UK worked fast to vaccinate the elderly. An uncle and aunt in their 80s who live in London surprised me when they said they had already received the first dose when I spoke to them on Christmas day. Yesterday, a friend shared that his 90-year-old mother had received both doses and was delighted to be out shopping again… wearing a mask of course!!!

Then came the news that another friend’s mother who lives in Malta was scheduled to get her first dose this weekend. The lady was so excited that she interrupted our volunteer meeting on zoom to share the personal news.

Later in the evening friends from New York proudly informed us that people aged 65 and above were now being asked to register for COVID-19 vaccinations. The couple who are in their late fifties expected that their turn would come soon.

Oceans away, relatives and friends in India were touting how the country was preparing for what is being called the world’s largest vaccination drive. The word on the ground is that though the country was late to begin, airlines were due to deliver more than 5  million vaccine doses on Tuesday to various cities.

Given Canada’s struggle to procure vaccines and then roll them out, I felt cheated.  With the Trudeau government’s bungling of securing vaccines as fast as possible and the provincial scale back during the holidays, the coronavirus tightens its hold on our lives.

According to a Bloomberg report, Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination rate (1 per 100 people) was a third of the US (3.03 per 100) on January 12, although both countries began their rollout on the same day almost a month ago. Also, the UK which began inoculations a week earlier than us had vaccinated four times more people (4.26 per 100) by Tuesday. And the difference might lie in the fact more than 130,000 were immunized in England the first week.

According to Canada’s vaccine tracker 411,686 (roughly 1% of the population) were administered by this Wednesday when compared to 9.94 million in the US. So, Canadians have good reason to be miffed with their leaders.

As Ontario implemented stay-at-home orders in a desperate attempt to flatten the curve, it remains to be seen whether the new restrictions will make a difference. Sky rocketing daily case numbers and overburdened healthcare systems in hotspots like Peel are proof that the lockdowns already in place are not having the desired effect.

Recent modelling released Tuesday which prompted the state of emergency, put forth frightening projections of the province seeing 20,000 to 40,000 cases by mid-February at 5% and 7% positivity (which we’ve been at several days despite the curbs) rates respectively.

So, while Ontarians point fingers at provincial leaders and politicians shake their fingers at the “few bad apples” (30% as per a survey released by the Science Table),  the logical conclusion is that ramping up vaccinations is the only way to protect lives and livelihoods.

As per the latest statement from the provincial government, older adults beginning with those 80 years of age (who are not part of the vulnerable groups) will only be vaccinated beginning in March. As will individuals living and working in high-risk congregate settings, frontline essential workers like teachers and first responders and individuals with high-risk chronic conditions and their caregivers. But that’s more than 28 days away. So, does this mean stay-at-home orders will be extended?

Moreover, the general population, in Ontario, can only expect to be vaccinated beginning August. Assuming the bad apples are part of the general population, how do we prevent high rates of community transmission?

Admittedly, immediate action like the stay-at-home order was required, but it is only a short-term solution if it provides any relief at all. Any kind of opening up comes with the risk of another surge and some more shutdowns. The only way to break this familiar cycle is by scaling up the vaccine rollout. 

Surely our prime minister and his procurement team must realize this.

And once we have the required vaccines, our provincial leaders too, will have no excuses to explain their COVID-19 missteps.

Till then stay home, stay safe and help save lives!

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