Convoy of the deluded

As Yogi Berra once said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Here we go again with another truck convoy to Ottawa by the misguided fuzzy-thinkers.

Three years ago, it was the “yellow vest” movement that inspired a convoy of trucks to leave Edmonton and head for Ottawa.

image: Pinterest

I spoke to one yellow vest protestor back then who had brought her vest to Mexico and intended to wear it on the beach as a symbol of solidarity against PM Trudeau and immigration. Wearing it would have been puzzling to the Mexican tourists, who were in the greatest numbers by far. She never did.

In 2019, the “Stand Up Canada Yellow Vest Pipeline Rally” began a truck convoy that was supposedly inspired by the French yellow vest protests. But much was lost in the translation.

Other than the wearing of yellow vests, named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists must carry in case of emergency, the Canadian version was a mishmash of slogans and vague anger.

Unlike its unclear Canadian counterpart, the French yellow vest movement was actually about something.  In France, on Nov. 17, 2018, hundreds of thousands of people occupied roads and tollbooths, blocking traffic around the country to protest a fuel tax hike. They vented anger at the broader economic policies pursued by centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as favouring the rich.

The Canadian yellow vest movement raised about $100,000. According to the group’s gofundme page, its cause was:

“Our goal is to put Western Canada’s oil field workers back to work, end the useless and redundant carbon tax, end the dependency on foreign oil and stop shipments from Saudi Arabia, see pipelines constructed to tidal water.”

However, the cause was muddled elsewhere. Yellow vest protestors in Calgary carried signs reading “Quebec please separate,” “Build pipelines” and “The UN is a scam.”  The protest against Canada’s acceptance of immigrants referred to a move by the United Nations to deal with the migration crisis out of Syria which was on a scale not seen since the Second World War.

Then Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said that signing of the UN motion would mean that “foreign entities” would be able to dictate Canadian immigration policies.  Scheer’s characterization of the pact’s legal authority was later dismissed as “factually incorrect” by a former Conservative immigration minister, Chris Alexander.

Fast forward three years and here we go again with an ill-defined “freedom convoy.”

Now Andrew Scheer tweets that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “the biggest threat to freedom in Canada.”

Some Conservatives are falsely claiming that vaccine mandates are leading to empty grocery store shelves.

Protesters are carrying “F–k Trudeau” flags, harassing journalists and staff a homeless shelter, and desecrating national monuments.

And straight out of Trump’s la-la land, convoy organizers have written a “memorandum of understanding” calling on the Senate and the Governor General, to repeal all vaccine-related restrictions.

In shades of the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol a year ago, one organizer called Trudeau a “criminal” and said the goal of the convoy is to “compel the government to dissolve government.”

Like groundhogs, Canadian dark-web dwellers emerge every few years. Blinking and confused in the bright daylight, they regurgitate the slogans and vitriol seething inside them. They jump on whatever bandwagon is passing by.

Vaccine objectors pay a price for their stand

What principles do the unvaccinated hold so dearly that they are ready to sacrifice their jobs and face ridicule and scorn?

Nurses in Kamloops are giving up the careers that they have worked so hard to establish: well-paying jobs with benefits and pensions. All because of a jab in the arm?

Kamloops nurse Glenn Aalderink second from right. Image: Kamloops This Week

To lay off nurses is a tough decision for the labour-friendly B.C. NDP government.  Health Minister Adrian Dix called it a “significant and solemn day,” but said that the requirement to get vaccinated “is an absolute necessity in our healthcare system.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has been trying to figure out the rationale of unvaccinated health workers. “Some people are quite dogmatic against vaccines, which is unfortunate,” she said.

Kamloops nurse Glenn Aalderink is feeling hurt and rejected.  “We`re not being allowed to help. We were told we weren’t wanted, we weren’t needed — and yet, we know we are,” he said.

Aalderink is so dedicated that he is setting up a private clinic Kamloops –a clinic that the Health Minister says must be staffed by vaccinated healthcare workers. Since then, the clinic has been shut down by the landlord.

Other Kamloopsians opposed to receiving the shot are also paying dearly.

Kamloops City councillor Denis Walsh has come out against being vaccinated. I know Walsh and he is not an irrational man. He’s opposed to the conspiracy theories of the antivaxxers and has received flack from that side.

Now he’s being shunned from the other provaxxer side. His coffee shop business may be affected.  He may well pay a political price as well, and he says that he’s already lost some friends over it.

Kamloopsian Beat Klossner is opposed to this vaccination. We have lively back-and-forth exchanges on Facebook; agreeing that workers rights and wages are threatened but disagreeing over his comparisons of vaccine passports to Nazism.

Klossner is community-minded and has run provincially as MLA for the Communist Part of B.C. and for the Kamloops School Board.

Klossner seems like a reasonable guy but is opposed to the way COVID vaccines have been imposed. He made it clear to me that he is not an antivaxxer. He’s had many vaccines in his life. “It is this specific COVID case I have a problem with,” he told me by Messenger.

Klossner is resigned to his fate: “I made my choice, I live with it. I’m not allowed to travel, to go to a pub or other public places, etc. I’m fully expecting in a few months, at the most, I’ll not be allowed to earn a living anymore.”

I asked: “Do you feel like a martyr? Going down for a cause?”

Klossner replied: “No, but I made my choice and will live with it.”

In an attempt to understand why someone would make such sacrifices, I asked him:  “What is the principle on which you would sacrifice your liberty and ability to work.”

He replied: “I’m not certain what is going on, but there is something bigger in the background. Many guesses and theories are floating around. While many are ridiculous, they also always seem to have something that could be possible.”

There seems to be some dark, ominous feelings that those opposed this vaccine have. The vaccine has gone beyond a simple jab in the arm and taken on totemic properties.

This is the way the pandemic ends

This is the way the pandemic ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.*

The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV2, is sweeping the globe like wildfire killing hundreds of thousands in its wake. But its months are numbered. In a year or so, it will become part of the suite of viruses that regularly infect us –it will become endemic.

image: pingtree.com

It will be demoted to a common coronavirus, one of the seven known human coronaviruses. Four are part of the regular group that cause one-third of common colds.

But this virus will be remembered as being distinct from its older brother, SARS-CoV which caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2003. This new coronavirus is sneaky.

The older coronavirus was conspicuously clumsy. Infected people became infectious after they became sick. They were flagged with the disease before they passed it on. Infected people with serious problems breathing and a fever showed up at hospitals where the disease was largely contained. Epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling of the University of Hong Kong says:

“Most patients with SARS were not that contagious until maybe a week after symptoms appeared (Scientific American, June, 2020).”

When sick people are not contagious, they can be quarantined before spreading the disease. Containment of SARS worked so well that only 8,098 cases were reported globally with 774 deaths, mostly in Toronto and Hong Kong.

SARS-CoV’s evil younger brother, this one that causes COVID-19, uses stealth. Infected people spread the disease before they show symptoms. You can be asymptomatic and feeling fine, all the while shedding the deadly virus. No warning signal until after the damage is done.

Hospitals are particularly vulnerable. When I went to the emergency section of the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops to get stitched up, I was intercepted at the entrance and asked if I had any of the COVID-19 symptoms. I didn’t but I could have been infected and spreading the virus. They took a chance on treating me, for which I’m thankful.

Political leaders can play a part, or not. Trump twiddles as the pandemic wildfires rage across the land of the free. Beachgoers merrily flock together in Florida and California. As protesters defend their constitutional rights to carry guns and not to wear masks, the novel coronavirus revels in the merriment.

While SARS-CoV-2 enjoys its killer notoriety now, soon it will be just another garden-variety nuisance.

The most famous example of a virus’s fall from infamy is the Spanish flu pandemic caused by the H1N1 virus from 1918 to 1919. In over two years and three waves of assault, the pandemic infected 500 million and killed nearly 100 million.

Health officials didn’t have the control measures we have today, simple measures like school closures and physical isolation. It ended only when enough people survived the pandemic with immunity.

Governments have demonstrated their worth during the pandemic, or not. Canada is doing a good job but our neighbours to the south, not so much.

Sarah Cobey, epidemiologist at the University of Chicago, says: “The question of how the pandemic plays out is at least 50 percent social and political.”

The other 50 percent comes from science in the development of a vaccine. Only then will CoV-2 be completely vanquished.

Until, vigilance is the adage. CoV-2 will sneak up on you when you least expect it.

* My apologies to T. S. Eliot, author of the poem “The Hollow Men” (1925).

Stop the misinformation about the COIVID-19 vaccine now

In an information vacuum, all kinds of thoughts flourish.

image: WION

Canadians generally favour vaccines but doubts persist. In a recent survey, 15 per cent of Canadians and 20 per cent of Americans said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available.

Why would you not get vaccinated against a deadly disease? Let’s count the reasons.

Some of it is simply “needle fear.” A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing found that 16 per cent of adult patients avoided the flu shot because of needle fear (Globe and Mail, May 22, 2020).

Then there is the fear from rushing to produce the vaccine. Political pressure is being put on researchers in the U.S. and China to come up with the first COVID-19 vaccine. Will such a vaccine be thoroughly tested for efficacy and long-term side effects?

There is the politics of choice: “Why should I be forced to get a vaccination if I don’t want to?” Well, public health is not a personal choice. In a universal health care system like we have in Canada, we all pay for the careless choices of individuals.

The psychology of “fear transfer” is a factor. Once we have exhausted our fears about the actual virus, fear of the vaccine becomes the greater threat.

In the U.S., presidential election politics are at play. President Trump has whipped up anti-lockdown sentiments in states that are reluctant to open the economy too quickly which would result in more COVID-19 deaths. Anti-lockdown protestors have also been pushing the anti-vaxx message.

Some Canadians are reluctant to have vaccinations too but they are not necessarily anti-vaxxers. They just want more valid information. In the absence of valid information from reliable sources, parents will turn to dubious sources such as those found on Facebook.

Anti-vaxxers tend to be concentrated in private or religious schools, or in home-schooling, and they live in a rural area or a community with a small to medium-sized population.

Another source of reluctance is irrational reasoning. “Why should I get a vaccination for a disease that doesn’t exist?” Of course, the disease, such as measles, has been suppressed because of vaccinations. Without vaccinations, they come back.

More wishful thinking is that: “if enough people are exposed to the COVID-19 virus, they will develop herd immunity and vaccinations won’t be required.” The problem is that we don’t know whether exposure to the virus develops resistance or for how long.

A federal agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, has recently funded research into the psychological factors of the pandemic. Researchers will monitor social media for concerns and for conspiracy theories being raised about the pandemic, including those about a future vaccine.

The researchers, Eve Dubé, of Laval University and Steven Taylor of The University of British Columbia argue that rational, science-based messaging about the vaccine needs to begin early, especially at a time when the public is saturated with health information about the pandemic.

“It is important to be pro-active, instead of leaving an empty space for vaccine critics to fill the information void,” said Eve Dubé, “Once the trust in vaccination is weakened, we are vulnerable to crisis.”

Reliable messaging about the COVID-19 vaccine has to start now.