Ontario’s reopening delayed because of failure of vaccine rollout

If an election were held today, it’s likely Doug Ford would be looking for a new job.

With public expectations admittedly low, Doug Ford earned kudos for his actions early on in the pandemic. For the most part, he let the experts do the talking, acting in accordance with the scientific advice he was given.

Rather than make himself the center of attention, unlike some politicians in other jurisdictions, he surprised many Ontarians by being demure.

That positive image has taken a beating of late, however. That’s in part because many of us are simply fed up with the pandemic, the restrictions and what has become endless droning from all concerned: politicians, bureaucrats and health officials alike. We want solutions, not more limitations, and certainly not more excuses for why we’re getting more limitations and not solutions.

Ford’s latest plan for reopening Ontario’s economy may have support from the medical community, but it just doesn’t fly with a public looking at writing off another summer.

Neither his extension of the lockdown through the holiday weekend nor his plans to maybe reopen some things eventually on some indeterminate schedule is a recipe for winning support.

In the end, the province’s latest reopening plan – likely subject to change based on public backlash – is all about vaccination rates. Unfortunately, making vaccines available has been the greatest failure, not just in Ontario but Canada-wide.

It was clear early on that the only real path to a return to something resembling normal life was acquiring vaccine supplies and getting needles into arms, a course of action that became even more pressing when mutated variants of the COVID-19 virus began to appear. Canada missed that boat. Still, vaccinating people is the main – and perhaps only – priority when it comes to both dealing with the pandemic and governing our way back to normalcy.

Supplies have been increasing, albeit too slowly at this juncture, which makes the next big task translating vials into jabs.

Canada now has four COVID-19 vaccines approved for use here, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford (now on hold) and, most recently, Johnson & Johnson. The latest of those is something of a game-changer, being a single-dose vaccine that doesn’t require extraordinary handling and storage measures, meaning it could be shipped out to pharmacies and doctor’s offices much like the flu vaccine. That promises to expedite matters, make getting the shot more accessible and perhaps bypass the local health units in favour of a province-wide rollout, which would be an improvement over the patchwork version we see today.

Supply, of course, remains the biggest hurdle today. There just isn’t enough vaccine available to immunize people on a significant scale.

To be sure, each dose administered is helpful, not only to the individual but on the path towards a return to some form of normalcy in which the virus is not longer a major threat. That, naturally, is the whole point of the exercise. Which is why it’s essential the job not be bungled, with coordinated action the key. For proof of that, we can look to the U.S. where a new administration prioritized fighting the virus instead of downplaying its impact. While still leading the world in the number of cases, the country went from basket case when it comes to inoculations to doing significantly better than many others, including Canada.

Once the logistics are sorted out, the real hurdle will be getting enough of us on board for the vaccine to make a difference. There’s no exact number, but experts typically look for a 70 to 85 per cent participation rate for so-called herd immunity to kick in. If too few of us get vaccinated, the virus will continue to spread.

Ottawa has now rolled out efforts to promote public confidence in the vaccines, hoping most of us will be on board with the idea when a shot is available.  The federal government argues community-driven engagement can be helpful in that regard, particularly among segments of the population that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Convincing the majority of us to get vaccinated will take some work. Right now, the vaccine isn’t available to all who want it, so we’ve got time to monitor how things go with the millions of people globally who have gone down that road.

Health officials are already touting the safety of the vaccines. They undoubtedly hope that real-world data will continue to back that opinion. Such assurances will go a long way in convincing the uncertain among us.

That said, vaccines are becoming more widely available at a faster pace – albeit at different rates among regions and nations – so we’ll have to speed up the process of instilling confidence.

To that end, the federal government last week launched a new plan to encourage vaccine uptake. The campaign uses the concept of a ripple effect to underscore how one small, individual action can greatly influence outcomes for everyone. Getting vaccinated will help reduce infection rates, ease pressure on the health system and create the conditions that will allow us to get back to important social, economic and recreational activities, health officials argue. Choosing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 can have a cascading effect, culminating in a more vaccinated and protected Canada and eventual easing of public health restrictions.

The latest tracking polling shows that the number of people who have already had a shot or who will take one as soon as it is available to them is up from previous weeks and now stands at more than 70 per cent.

That kind of response edges closer to herd immunity, but there’s a long way yet to go … much longer than patience is likely to last, though Ontarians aren’t going to the polls just yet.

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