The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said the initial, limited quantity of vaccine doses should be reserved for people who are most at risk of contracting the virus and developing severe symptoms. NACI is an independent committee charged with deciding who in Canada should receive the first COVID-19 vaccines, and their recommendation released on Friday December 4 asserts that long-term care residents and seniors over the age of 80 should be given top priority.
Elderly residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities, retirement homes, and chronic care hospitals are much more at risk of developing severe outcomes, NACI stated, and therefore should be at the top of the list for receiving the initial batch of vaccine when it is available in Canada. In conjunction, the staff working at these facilities should also be prioritized for early vaccination. Next in the queue should be any other Canadian resident over the ago of 80, front line health care workers, and some First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities living in remote and isolated areas. While NACI and the federal government can suggest who should receive the vaccine first, in the end it is up to the provinces to follow these recommendations. Health care falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces. There is no anticipation that provinces will stray far from the recommendations for the first vaccines, but when it comes to the distribution of subsequent batches of vaccine it is foreseeable that one province may deem workers from one sector of the economy as an essential service while another province may not. Also, since this is not a mandatory vaccination program there is no telling how thorough the program will be.
On a cautionary note the World Health Organization warned yet again that the vaccine alone will not end the pandemic. In August of this year WHO stated that a vaccine would be a vital tool, but not a miraculous one. COVID-19 is not going to disappear from the environment once vaccines start rolling out. Just as virus’ such as measles, mumps and polio still exist so too will COVID. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, said it’s “very important” for the public to learn “how to live with this virus.” Everyone from world leaders to the general public must learn how to manage the virus and make permanent adjustments to their daily lives, the World Health Organization advises. In an article published in the New York Times, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered a mutation in the coronavirus that had never been seen before. Moreover as Dr. Paul Duprex and his colleagues searched public databases, they discovered that this mutation is “happening independently in different parts of the world.” As much as Dr. Duprex despises the pandemic and the virus that is at the heart of it, he admits that he finds it hard not to admire the brilliance of the mutation. (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/science/covid-vaccine-virus-resistance.html) It was after-all, a mutation which allowed the virus to jump from the animal world to the human in the first place and on November 7th, 2020 news broke that in Denmark the virus jumped from humans to minks on fur farms where it again mutated before jumping back to the human population. Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen locked down multiple municipalities in the north part of the country at the beginning of November in an effort to contain the mutated strain. In addition, Denmark ordered a total cull of the country’s 17 million mink. Five different strains of the ‘mutant mink’ coronavirus have been identified in Denmark but only one of these, known as Cluster 5, is showing to be less sensitive to antibodies. And it is perhaps this that makes the development of a variety of vaccines so important. The vaccines will come, and over the months in 2021 the largest vaccination program the world has ever known will take place. Some people will receive Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine that is only stable if kept at -70 C prior to injection, some will receive Moderna’s mRNA vaccine that remains stable at normal refrigerator temperatures, and perhaps some will receive the vaccine developed by Saskatoon’s VIDO-Intervac. What is important to remember though, is that this is not like a Boxing Day Sale where there is only a limited quantity, kindness, patience and compassion will still be needed, and an understanding that the realities of 2020 may have forever changed what is normal.
Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder