Heather Hunter September’20

Masks, Distancing and Vaccines

By Heather Hunter
Fortunately, the rate of compliance to COVID regulations in Canada is high, but there are people who are making a big deal out of having to wear a mask and physically distance in public places. Hundreds rallied in Montreal on August 8 to protest Quebec’s mask rules claiming their democratic rights are in jeopardy. The anti-vax movement has joined forces with the anti-mask people. They believe in the individual’s right to choose for themselves and their children whether to take prescribed protective measures against disease. An American doctor has labelled the phenomenon, “the war against stupidity”.

One does not have to go far back in history to learn that Small Pox, Diphtheria, Lock jaw, Whooping Cough and Polio were plagues that killed and maimed thousands of people and could in the future if not for mass compulsory vaccination. Polio first appeared in Canada in 1910 and the only defense against it was isolation. Families were quarantined until victims succumbed or recovered in over-flowing hospitals, sometimes only partially, and many parents kept their children indoors all summer. Archival photos show young victims living out their days in iron lungs, metal cylinders which assisted the breathing of those with permanently weakened respiratory muscles. 11,000 children were left paralyzed between 1949 and 1954 in Canada. Dr. Jonas Salk’s vaccine eradicated Polio in 1955. Vaccines are medical miracles that protect people from lethal diseases still lying in wait for a chance to invade a host causing birth defects, disfigurement and death. I have a vaccine scar the size of a dime on my left arm, for which I am grateful though some anti-vaxxers call me a “marked person”.

In the 1950’s, I remember being bed-ridden for weeks with measles, mumps and chicken pox, hallucinating with fever, seeing snakes on the ceiling. Less fortunate children were left brain-damaged or blind or years later found themselves to be sterile. Thankfully, my children didn’t have to endure the same fate due to the MMR vaccine. Young parents today never experienced the effects of these illnesses first-hand, so it is easy for them to be convinced by ardent anti-vaxxers that the immune system alone can handle the viruses. Natural herd immunity would require the majority of the population to be infected and suffer the effects. Ironically, due to herd or community immunity from mass vaccination, fear of once prevalent diseases has waned in their absence. But these childhood diseases are making a comeback due to vaccine reluctance. A chicken pox outbreak was reported on August 9 in Ottawa.

According to a Canadian study done in June, 75% of the population want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, while 15% do not want it and 10% are undecided. To persuade the skeptics, an education campaign is needed to combat the fear-mongering by anti-vaxxers. The development process of a vaccine including possible risks and side effects needs to be well explained. Benefits must be seen to outweigh risks.

The general population trusts medical experts and follows directives. Most Baby Boomers fill prescriptions and receive the shingles shot solely on the advice of their doctors. Often, Millennials do “research” on the internet first where basically anyone is free to present their opinions as fact, even if they have no credentials. Parental vaccine reluctance and homeopathic treatments for dangerous illnesses like meningitis endanger children and so authorities have the right to intervene to protect juveniles from even well-meaning parents. Being a parent does not give them ownership of their children.

Trust is eroded by the statements of movie stars like Jenny McCarthy who purport that autism is caused by vaccines, so confused and fearful parents withhold permission. Some people are convinced by the claims found on rebel websites based on the pseudo-science of renegade doctors. They may see themselves as more discriminating than the majority who rely on the advice of the medical establishment who report on mainstream media. The theories of the ex-doctor, anti-vax crusader, Andrew Wakefield, have been debunked, but his myths live on.

Socially responsible people believe themselves to be their brother’s keeper. Following rules such as physical distancing and wearing masks to protect oneself and others from COVID-19 serves a higher purpose than just looking out for number one. In a civilized society, the common good must take precedence over the individual’s right to behave as they wish. Freedom is not license.

Taking down potentially dangerous hate speech and unsubstantiated claims from the web by Facebook is not an infringement of free speech. Censorship is not a dirty word. People need boundaries and deserve protection. Law enforcement in a democratic society is a far cry from state control in a communist country. To prevent the blind leading the blind and the spread of misinformation, citizens need to respect and trust medical authorities and government officials educated and elected to make informed decisions. Unlike totalitarian states that suppress dissension, in democratic countries, free speech and the free press expose corruption and free elections bring about change.

There are privacy concerns around contact tracing meant to contain the spread of the Corona virus. The COVID Alert app does not collect personal data except contact information. In these extraordinary times (which require extraordinary measures) a certain amount of trust is required that the information gathered will be destroyed after 30 days. Those who are leery can patronize businesses where they have confidence in the owners and managers or they can stay home.

There will always be individuals who belligerently flout rules and show disregard for others. They proceed in the wrong direction in store aisles, won’t stay 2 meters apart and wear their masks beneath their noses or not at all (for no good reason). Even if the restrictions last for a year or more, giving the hard working researchers time to develop a vaccine, it is not long in the scheme of things and a small price to pay for protection from a potentially lethal and debilitating illness. Fortunately, the “rebels” are in the minority, at least in Canada, where we have the advantage of seeing the consequences of mass resistance in places south of the border.