The amount of freedom Manitobans have regained over the past several weeks due to COVID-19 vaccines has been spectacular. The evidence is all around us.
Manitobans are returning to bars and restaurants, movie theatres, gyms, hockey arenas and recreational facilities. People are visiting family and friends in each other’s homes, enjoying barbecues and gathering on patios. They are dancing to live music.
Thanks to a high vaccine uptake, people are living again.
In Manitoba, the vast majority of COVID–19 patients in hospital continue to be either unvaccinated or only partially immunized.
Almost 80 per cent of Manitobans over the age of 12 are now fully vaccinated, most people are wearing masks in indoor public places and proof-of-vaccination is required to access many public places.
Without those measures, we would still be huddled in our homes, cut off from friends and family and wondering how this pandemic would ever end. Potentially, case numbers would be soaring and intensive care units would be overflowing — as they are in provinces such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, where vaccine mandates and public health measures were rejected for political reasons, until recently.
Four months ago, when only a quarter of eligible Manitobans were fully vaccinated, the only way to keep infections and hospitalizations from escalating was through strict public health measures. Since Sept. 3, when proof-of-vaccine mandates were implemented and indoor mask rules reinstated, residents have been living near-normal lives again.
Since July 2, Manitoba’s test positivity rate has fallen by more than half: to 2.3 per cent from 5.4 per cent. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has dropped to 71 from 163. Manitoba has the lowest per capita cases of new infections in the country, west of Nova Scotia, at 58 per 100,000 people over the past two weeks.
Vaccinating children under 12 will be the next step in not only protecting them and others, but reclaiming more of our freedoms.
By contrast, new infections in Saskatchewan and Alberta (the two provinces with the lowest vaccine uptake in the country) are more than eight times higher.
More importantly, in Manitoba, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients in hospital continue to be either unvaccinated or only partially immunized.
The evidence is indisputable: vaccines not only save lives and reduce severe illness, they are allowing the return to normal living.
This isn’t over. However, there is a clear path to a post-pandemic world.
Children under 12 represent the biggest risk now, not only for their own safety but because they are transmitters of the novel coronavirus.
Pfizer announced Monday its COVID-19 vaccine has proven effective in children ages five to 11. The company is applying for emergency use approval in the United States. Pfizer Canada says it plans to bring the results of its clinical trials to Health Canada "as early as possible."
We’re getting closer. Vaccinating children under 12 will be the next step in not only protecting them and others, but reclaiming more of our freedoms. In the meantime, more steps are required to keep children safe in schools.
There is another type of freedom COVID-19 vaccines are providing that doesn’t get as much attention: access to basic health-care services. Hospitals have had to cancel tens of thousands of elective procedures during the pandemic (such as knee and hip surgeries) to redeploy staff to treat COVID-19 patients.
The delays have been catastrophic; the long-term effects have still not been fully assessed. It’s unclear how many months, or years, it will take to catch up. Vaccines are allowing hospitals to chip away at those backlogs. Without immunization, basic medical services, such as cataract surgery, would become even more inaccessible.
The percentage of Manitobans getting vaccinated is only growing about one-10th of a percentage point a day. That rate hasn’t changed much since mandates were put in place. However, the measures have allowed the vast majority of Manitobans to resume living in safe, largely virus-free environments with friends, family and other members of the public.
If that isn’t freedom, I don’t know what is.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.