There’s not a lot of love for the ‘unvaccinated’ right now as the Omicron strain of the SARS-CoV2 virus pummels our underfunded health care system and public infrastructure.
On the surface, the bitterness is understandable. The number of hospitalized patients in intensive care units and those requiring intubation are beyond the pale in many population centres. The concern is further fueled by the ranks of nurses, doctors and other front-line workers being reduced by illness, retirements and vaccine mandate losses.
It’s so bad hospitals have had to postpone other procedures – again – adding to a backlog of health care that severely impacts millions of people in countless ways. Meanwhile, the livelihoods of millions more are being trampled as the province shuts down businesses to reduce transmission points. And then there’s the negative outcome of education chaos with students, teachers and parents mired within ministerial confusion.
Mix that in with outbreaks and tightened protocols at long-term care facilities – such as Cassellholme Home for the Aged – and the North Bay Jail.
Calling the situation critical is an understatement, even with the Omicron strain not appearing to be as immediately devastating health-wise as previous variants such as Delta. The latest mutant seems to settle in the upper respiratory tract instead of deeper in the lungs, providing an opportunity for treatment and avoiding some of the traumatic outcomes.
The hyper transmissibility, however, has multiplied the numbers to such a degree that the net impact could actually be worse with the potential for an astronomical cohort of “long COVID” victims.
We don’t actually know how bad it is, though, because PCR testing capacity has been blown out of the lab water. Rapid antibody tests are hit and miss, especially when administered by sick and untrained individuals, and the results are not always reported. Interestingly, the COVID-positive numbers in hospitals are muddied because many of those are attending for non-COVID reasons and were asymptomatic. I’d like to know the test positivity rate of those people separate from those tested with symptoms. It would also be informative to track their experience.
Those against vaccine mandates point to the high numbers of vaccinated who are testing positive for COVID-19 as proof that their avoidance of “the jab” was justified. They believe the risk of adverse effects – speculative and documented (albeit relatively low) – isn’t worth it. Some also argue that both vaccinated and unvaccinated are spreading Omicron in a similar-enough fashion there’s little difference in the risk – at least not enough to warrant suspension of personal liberties. Of course, they also embrace the very low possibility of death as rationale too but even a small piece of a very large pie can be more than we can chew.
It’s not easy explaining the primary issue to those who are holding out, although a lesson in percentages sometimes helps. I’ve told mandate-adverse people it comes down to reducing impacts. If 20 percent of the population isn’t vaccinated but they take up 50 per cent or more of the ICU and intubation resources, that means every new vaccination opens up exponentially more beds. Each vaccination, even if only offering partial protection from severe outcomes, likely even frees up more resources than lock-down measures.
Quebec is so intent on forcing vaccines to reduce the strain on hospitals that the province is considering an additional “significant” surcharge to offset the extra cost to the health care system. It isn’t clear whether they will be fined regardless of whether they end up in the hospital or not, which is an important distinction if any jurisdiction goes that route. They are also including more provincially-controlled facilities in the vaccine mandate, meaning those who are not vaccinated can’t enter liquor or cannabis stores now either.
I think that’s a little heavy-handed, myself. And I make it a rule not to follow the lead of either Quebec or America on any issue of importance.
The problem with such measures is that they do nothing to reduce hospitalizations this month or next. The first dose of either vaccine available in Canada is considered very poor in preventing hospitalization and the recommended schedule for the second dose is eight weeks later. A third dose booster initially wasn’t supposed to be administered until after six months, although that’s been changed to three months for some. With Omicron especially, even the head of Pfizer says it takes the third dose booster to offer any real protection. Also revealed this week, the Big Pharma leader is producing an improved vaccine that should be ready in March.
There is also a vaccine developed by a Canadian company currently seeking approval with test studies indicating it offers improved efficacy against the latest strains.
What I’m suggesting is that it’s too late to force people to initiate the three-dose series of vaccines right now. It wouldn’t make a drop of difference for at least two months.
I think we should give the unvaccinated another chance at joining “team jabbed” when there’s a better vaccine available. I don’t blame some of them for being reluctant, there have been enough errors, missteps and walk-backs by both the government and public health to feed the mistrust. There’s also a real possibility the Omicron variant will achieve the so-called “herd immunity” threshold and make vaccines redundant.
P.S. Just so you know, I’ve received two doses of vaccine and will be rolling up my sleeve for a booster soon. I don’t like how the governments and public health officials have handled the pandemic. We should have bolstered health and long-term care and education infrastructures better over the past two years (and before). I’m extremely disappointed we allowed Big Pharma and other companies to profit so much from this emergency. But taking the recommended jabs is my contribution to reducing the strain on hospital workers, it’s the least I can do.
Dave Dale is a veteran journalist and columnist who has covered the North Bay area for more than 30 years. Reader responses meant as Letters to the Editor can be sent to email@example.com. To contact the writer directly, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website www.smalltowntimes.ca