May 11, 2021

Opinion: Let's be clear as possible, we all need to be vaccinated to end the pandemic

Jon Meddings, Cora Constantinescu, and Deborah Yedlin in Calgary Herald

Alberta has always been the province where people and communities come together and support one another when the need arises. We have always understood the importance of collective responsibility and the public good.

This week marks five years since the Fort McMurray fires, which devastated the city but saw Albertans open their doors and wallets to all who were displaced by this disaster.

  • Photo above: Albertans born in 1981 and earlier stand in line for the drop-in appointments to receive their AstraZeneca vaccines at the immunization clinic at the Telus Convention Centre on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. PHOTO BY AZIN GHAFFARI /Postmedia file

But now we are facing our biggest battle in this pandemic: we have the highest numbers of cases since the pandemic began and are sadly bracing for more deaths. Clearly, we need to do better.

This means adhering to the restrictions — and more people getting vaccinated.

To help with making these decisions in the pandemic, the University of Calgary launched 19 To Zero: United Against COVID-19 — an international coalition working to shift public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviours and vaccination last August.

Yet, despite these and other efforts, Alberta is seeing the highest vaccine hesitancy of all the Canadian provinces.

Part of this might be due to messaging that has admittedly been confusing — so let’s reiterate it: the first vaccine available is the one you should get. But there are still many who worry about taking a vaccine that was so quick to be developed or are waiting for the right “brand.” Typically, we would only have one vaccine available, now we seem to have an embarrassment of riches.

They are all effective at saving lives. All the available vaccines protect equally against the three important outcomes: severe illness, hospitalization and death.

People sometimes think that because they are healthy and fit it will keep them safe from severe outcomes It won’t. Scientists call this cohort “the exceptionalists.” But the virus doesn’t see it that way. Just ask Alex Kopacz, a gold medal-winning Olympic bobsledder who required hospitalization after being infected with COVID-19.

Some people feel protected because they follow the rules and live in their bubbles. When the numbers are high, no bubble is safe: those inside are entirely vulnerable, facing potentially devastating outcomes.

We all need to be vaccinated — to protect everyone in our community. Some people, such as cancer patients, cannot build an immune response to a vaccine, so the only way to ensure they don’t get sick is for everyone around them to have taken a vaccine.

Our worlds have shrunk in the last 15 months. We all know what we are missing — the freedom to do what we want, when we want, where we want and with whom we want. Many of us are enviously looking at images of the throngs of people in parts of the world where the combination of vaccines and lockdowns have proven effective — just in time for summer.

The reason why those measures worked, goes back to basic math.

The virus spreads exponentially, but the rate of vaccination is linear. In order to decrease the virus spread, the rate of vaccinations has to exceed the rate of infection; the only way to do that is to limit movement through restrictions and vaccinate like hell. The Brits understood the math. As did the Israelis. The evidence speaks for itself as their lives are returning to normal.

However, 14 months in, instead of pulling together, instead of normal, Albertans are headed in the opposite direction.

And it will result in more economic stress, mental health challenges and loss of loved ones.

We have a chance to get it right. The combination of restrictions in place, an increased supply of vaccine and the lowering of the age eligibility gives us a shot at getting to the point where the rate of vaccination exceeds the rate of infection.

But the only way that happens is if we reclaim the value of collective responsibility, which has been a hallmark of Albertans throughout its history. Let’s all get vaccinated. Now. For the benefit of us and everyone else around us; it is never too late to look out for ourselves and our neighbours and never too late to save lives.

Jon Meddings is the dean of Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary; Cora Constantinescu is a paediatric infectious diseases expert with the Vaccine Hesitancy Clinic at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and clinical professor in the Cumming School of Medicine; Deborah Yedlin is the chancellor of the University of Calgary.

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