As soon as word got out earlier this week that Ontario was opening up AstraZeneca vaccine availability to people 40 and older, Betsy Hilton’s group chats lit up on her phone.
"It was wild. Every 40-something I knew was getting on pharmacy websites trying to get a spot," said the 42-year-old Toronto communications consultant, who booked a jab for Wednesday.
Across the country, Gen X’ers — who grew up with Cabbage Patch Kids and New Kids on the Block, and are sometimes called the "latchkey" generation because many returned to an empty home after school as parents worked — have pounced at the sudden availability in several provinces of AstraZeneca, the vaccine baby boomers have been slow to embrace amid reports of a possible association with rare blood clots.
So what makes Gen X different?
Hilton and other Gen X’ers the Star spoke to suggested Tuesday their enthusiastic embrace of the vaccine stems from a number of factors: They’re part of the "sandwich generation," meaning they’re caring for young children and aging parents, and want to ensure everyone in the family stays safe.
Also, women of the generation for years accepted the risks of blood clots associated with birth control pills and see the risks associated with AstraZeneca to be much smaller.
"A vaccine with minuscule, don’t even worry about it risk? Puh-leeze. This is Gen X," Hilton wrote in a tweet. "We ate Pop Tarts for breakfast and got babysat after school by ("The Young and the Restless").
“A vaccine with minuscule, don’t even worry about it risk? Puh–leeze. This is Gen X." –Betsy Hilton
Plus, Gen X’ers are not as fazed by having to navigate cumbersome online booking processes. They are used to waking up early to register kids for daycare spots or swim lessons, and have the patience from lining up overnight for concert tickets back in the day.
It’s a galvanizing moment for Gen X’ers who have turned their vaccine embrace into a point of pride.
"Gen X is usually forgotten in generational discussions," Edmonton-based writer Tim Querengesser wrote on Twitter. "It’s always Millennials or Boomers being discussed. Not today."
Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said Tuesday online systems were quickly filling up among the province’s 1,400 pharmacies after the decision to lower the age limit.
"Whatever hesitancy and challenges we were facing last week seems to have corrected itself," he said.
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa who just a week ago said on Twitter it was "sad" that, after receiving 200 doses of the vaccine, only 10 patients age 55 and up had booked an appointment, said she was feeling "renewed energy" Tuesday.
"Our phones are ringing off the hook in family med," she tweeted. "We’re old enough to have grown up with rotary phones, but we feel young and energized today."
By Tuesday afternoon, officials in Alberta had reported more than 36,000 people had booked an appointment to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine through the province’s online booking tool or by calling 811, which was more than what the province had seen all of last week when eligibility was limited to people 55 and over.
“We’re old enough to have grown up with rotary phones, but we feel young and energized today.” –Dr. Nili Kaplan–Myrth
Saying it was too early to tell if the spike in bookings was indicative of a long-term trend or just the result of "pent up" demand among 40-somethings, Jamie Wigston, a pharmacist in New Westminster, B.C., confirmed Tuesday appointments for his store’s remaining 70 doses had been booked and they had to start a waiting list.
Gen X’ers are generally a very pragmatic group in contrast to boomers, who tend to be more ideological, Sean Lyons, a University of Guelph professor who has studied intergenerational differences, wrote in an email to the Star.
"I think that this might be because Gen X’ers are more educated on the whole than boomers are. From a practical perspective, if you weight the evidence and consider the potential risks, it’s really a no-brainer to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. In terms of generational dynamics, I’ve observed a lot of Gen X’ers shaking their heads at the perspectives boomers have had about vaccines, which appear to be driven by emotion and poor information from places like Facebook."
Careful to note this is purely anecdotal, Lyons said it seems Gen X’ers have been better at authenticating news, whereas boomers may be more susceptible to conspiracy theories.
Toronto’s Patrick Osler, 43, who works in investment management and received his AstraZeneca vaccine at a Yonge Street pharmacy Tuesday, said as soon as he heard the age limit had been lowered, it was a no-brainer for him to sign up for an appointment.
"The more people are able to be vaccinated it’s generally better for the broader group," he said. "When available to me I wanted to take advantage of that."
Among his contemporaries, there were few holdouts, he said.
"There was a great excitement to line up as soon as possible."
"In terms of generational dynamics, I’ve observed a lot of Gen X’ers shaking their heads at the perspectives boomers have had about vaccines, which appear to be driven by emotion and poor information from places like Facebook.” –Sean Lyons
Like many Gen X’ers, Jen Cumming, 46, the co-owner of a Toronto homebuilding company, couldn’t resist sharing a postvaccination picture on Instagram.
"I have had a few weeks of tears, frustration and anger," she wrote in the caption. "Today, a few tears of joy, hope and resilience."
Cumming, the mother of two teenagers, told the Star that while she had tried to maintain an upbeat attitude over the last year, the "full weight of the pandemic" hit her a few weeks ago and it left her feeling "helpless."
Getting a text message from the Rexall pharmacy chain saying she could book an appointment lifted her spirits.
"I am all for, ‘Let’s get vaccinated and get back to life.’ I want to travel, I want to hug my family. I want to see friends."
Ian Chaves, 42, a registered nurse in Edmonton who works in administration and who posted a postvaccination selfie Tuesday on Twitter, said as soon as he and his friends learned they were eligible for the vaccine, they went into strategy mode, using a mix of online sleuthing and conventional phone calling to book appointments.
It hearkened back to the days of registering for university courses by telephone, he said.
"Looking back at it, it didn’t faze us back then."
This ability to straddle the old-school analog and digital worlds, coupled with Gen X’ers’ sandwich-generation commitments, health literacy skills and latchkey survivalist instincts, it’s no wonder, they’ve embraced the vaccine as they have.
"This was a perfect storm for the embrace of AZ by a generation that, not only copes by problem solving, but takes pride in getting things done practically."
Douglas Quan is a Vancouver-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @dougquan