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Dan Lett | Not for Attribution
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Vaccination limbo
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Vaccination limbo

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Could better planning have helped the back-to-school plan? Parents of school-aged children are certainly asking themselves that question.

Dan Lett

Dan Lett, Columnist

Dan Lett

The Macro

My daughter is trapped in vaccination limbo.

Nora is double-vaxxed but has not yet received her booster because provincial guidelines stipulate recipients to be at least 18 years old. And school is starting up again.

The timing is absurd: based on the six-month wait required to be eligible for a booster, Nora could have been given a third dose on Jan. 5; students were called back to school this past Monday, Jan. 17; Nora doesn’t turn 18 until Jan. 28.

It seems to me that somewhere in the planning for a return-to-school, provincial public health officials could have — likely should have — considered the risks to provincial vaccine stockpiles and rewards of offering a booster to any and all students who have already been vaccinated.

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The PC government has been clear that boosters are critically important while we battle the Omicron variant of COVID-19. If that’s so, why wouldn’t vaccine eligibility have been expanded?

Or, as a frustrated Nora put it: “Does the government really think that, with my birthday in a couple of weeks, there is some sort of biological difference between me and an 18-year-old?”

I’ll add some additional fuel to this fire. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are a ton of open appointments for booster shots right now.

I have personally received emails from two pharmacy/clinics notifying me about an abundance of open booster appointments. I called both, along with several other pharmacies that showed openings online — literally dozens upon dozens of appointments leading up to the resumption of school — and asked if they would vaccinate my daughter given that she turns 18 later this month. They all declined.

I have no issue with clinics adhering to provincial guidelines. But I do have an issue with provincial guidelines that seem so utterly disconnected from other events. It’s no wonder that hundreds of high-school aged children staged a walk-out on Monday to protest the lack of effort put into making school as safe as possible for the resumption of classes.

Students from Kelvin High School walkout during the middle of class to raise awareness of lack of student safety Monday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Keeping schools open for in-person education is a worthy goal that has been a central priority for Premier Heather Stefanson and her government. I accept that some of the risks of having kids in class are reasonable given the benefits that accrue from having kids learning in person. I just can’t understand why the booster eligibility was not tweaked to provide some additional protection, and comfort, to students and their families.

An early January news release detailing Manitoba’s phased-in approach to re-opening school provides a graphic example of how planning failed in this instance. In one paragraph, the release celebrates the admission of 10,000 additional doses of vaccine through in-school vaccination clinics in December. The next sentence notes rather bluntly, however, that boosters are only available to people over 18.

It should be noted that Manitoba is not the only problem here. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has not yet formally approved boosters for teenagers aged 12-17.

However, in its most recent advice to the provinces, it does not clearly identify any specific medical concern about giving teenagers the booster. Only that it’s not recommended. And by recommended, provinces could at any time make their own decision to give boosters to teens.

What’s even more maddening is that other countries are already giving teens the booster.

In the first week of January, the vaccine advisory group within the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommended boosters for all children aged 12-17.

A teenager receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in France. (Bob Edme / AP Photo file)

“It is critical that we protect our children and teens from COVID-19 infection and the complications of severe disease,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. “This booster dose will provide optimized protection against COVID-19 and the Omicron variant.”

Indeed. One of the strong themes of the global pandemic has been — as this issue reveals — a complete lack of global approach. The result is that in places like Manitoba, where advice on boosters for teens seems to be lagging behind other countries, we’re sending kids back to school without boosters.

By now, we should all be willing to agree on one fundamental truth of this pandemic: there is always a cost when we delay, defer, or fail to keep up with the leading-edge of thinking.

Journalist, heal thyself

I’ve written before about the threats and abuse levelled at journalists from people who object to our efforts to bring light to dark places and problems. At the risk of sounding repetitive, it’s still a big problem. Maybe getting worse.

Many news organizations reported in the spring of 2020 about Serbian journalist Ana Lalic, who was imprisoned by government officials after reporting on a shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment. She was charged with inciting panic.

Even though she was quickly released, Lalic became a global cause célèbre, her story serving as a cautionary tale about how certain governments were using extreme measures to quash stories of government incompetence or inaction during the pandemic. She was even given awards for her courage.

However, as the New York Times reported this week, she was also subjected to a prolonged period of abuse, sometimes at the hands of other Serbian news outlets that vilified her in what appeared to be an effort to cull favour from Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, a ruthless authoritarian.

“For the whole nation, I became a public enemy,” Lalic told the NYTs.

The story notes that few journalists are jailed or killed, as was the case in the 1990s and under former president Slobodan Milosevic. But there is no evidence of coordinated online campaigns to threaten and debase journalists that criticize government.

Serbia is not the only country to take this approach. Across Europe, there have been similar efforts to undermine or quiet journalists. Human Rights Watch has sounded the alarm about how more than 80 governments around the world have used the pandemic as an excuse to curb free speech and peaceful assembly.

(And for the record, we’re not talking about governments violating some mythical concept of liberty or personal freedom by invoking mask and vaccine mandates. This is about shutting down the right of people to criticize the government of the day.)

This is a trend that will endure. Stay tuned for more lamentable updates.

 


 

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