Pandemic Diaries: The Great Vaccine Hunt of 2021
Worried thoughts cross my mind tonight. It is May 21, 2021. Today, I went to the doctor for an earache. After talking about a possible infection I had a chat with my doctor about the vaccination rate in Canada. I found out that this doctor, a geriatric man in his mid 70’s had only received one shot of the RNA vaccine made by Pfizer.
I cannot describe the feelings that overtook me as, when prompted, I discussed how I was fully vaccinated. I am a relatively healthy 30-year-old man. I am not a frontline worker; I am not a nurse or a doctor or a pharmacist. I am not even remotely associated with the medical industry at all. Yet I had received the initial dose of Pfizer and the booster – the only difference was I had to hunt for it.
I had gotten my first shot of Pfizer in early May in Canada. I had quickly learned that I would be eligible for the second booster shot well past the recommended (and tested) period of 3-6 weeks. My booster shot was, in fact, scheduled for late July. I am not a medical expert, I do not claim to know how these vaccines work in an intricate manner, nor do I recommend you (the reader) do anything that I have done. What I did do and will talk about comes from the experience of working for and with government which gives me an inkling of how things work, at least in Canada. My experiences led me to the unfortunate conclusion that I was on my own, so I did what any desperate person does when they see the writing on the wall, I looked for any solution to solve my problem. It turns out this has become our problem: Where and when do we get the first and second shot of the vaccine? There is a strange irony in the fact that after over a year of mixed quarantine messaging we, or at least I, feel alone. We have become dependent on good samaritans (Vaccine Hunters) and our own ability and intuition to protect ourselves from a deadly disease.
My intuition led me abroad, where I found myself in the most unlikely of places for a progressive healthcare rollout: Texas. While in Dallas, I went to a pharmacy walk-in, and in 20 minutes (5 providing proof of my first vaccination, and 15 waiting for the “all clear” for allergies) I had solved a problem that is still plaguing millions of Canadians today. I was and am now fully vaccinated. What a world we live in where people of any profession or nationality are getting fully vaccinated in Texas before Doctors are in Canada. After I received my vaccine – my booster – I felt a wave of relief wash over me, it was almost euphoric. Motivated by pure self interest and self preservation I had achieved what most Canadians could not, I had achieved my goal: I was a part of a small percentage of people in Canada who were fully vaccinated. It felt odd taking off from a nation in quarantine and landing in a place which was almost the opposite. I felt naked not “having” to wear a mask, but I did because I was and am still vulnerable, although much less so now. What a weird feeling it was, I had felt as if people were dirty, I felt as though I was dirty. I felt alone. I still feel scared.
Growing up in Canada, I staunchly believed that Canada was the greatest place on earth. I believed in our healthcare system, and how it was superior to our neighbours to the south. I knew that our politicians were more competent and that we would always be prepared for anything. It is hard to grow up here and not be indoctrinated with “Canadiana” as I call it. It is easy to feel a sense of smug moral superiority when we only compare ourselves with the United States. All of that changed when I looked into our nation's political machinery. I have had a history in politics that includes blowing the whistle on corrupt politicians and calling out a lobbying firm utilizing a loophole in election law in order to get people elected who fit their client’s business interests. I ostracized myself from ever working in the career I worked towards by telling the truth: there is corruption and incompetence at all levels of politics and governance in this nation. Today I feel angry and cheated, but most of all I feel depressed. We, as a people, have been let down. Our leaders have failed and have been continuing to fail. This is not partisan either, it is not a liberal or conservative problem. It is not left vs right; it is a question of competency. It is a question of what direction we want to head in as a nation.
I have been doing a lot of soul searching lately and my hopes for a prosperous future keep getting bleeker. I re-enrolled in university with the aim of getting a masters in global affairs because I do not know if this is the country I want to call home, besides, job prospects are dismal these days regardless. I wonder if this is what it is like to be on the losing side of a war. It seems that the world collectively lost the war against this virus, SARS-CoV-2, and we are now seeing the fallout. Already I have heard talk of economic consequences, stagflation, surgical backlogs, mental health repercussions and damage to the development of children due to a lack of socialization fill our conversations. We are proud to beat our chests that we’re now leading the world in single dose vaccinations, but as the doctor I saw today said: we’re “shit” at fully vaccinating people. We spent more per capita than any other nation on earth for vaccines, we have a robust healthcare system and a population desperate to be vaccinated yet something has gone wrong, this rollout is a symptom of a much larger problem: Canada is not the same place as it was in the 90’s. I could get into the weeds about this, talk about USMCA and NAFTA, Globalization and the rise of China, but frankly that is not what the point of this article is. This article is about how rules and laws are not respected because our elected officials seem to be working in silos. It is about how in an act of desperation I had to break quarantine and cross an international border twice during a pandemic just to get a vaccine that was made 3 hours from where I live. This article is about how millions of Canadians are waiting for their first and second shots of a vaccine, while being subjected to inconsistent rules that, at times, do not seem to make sense. In Toronto someone selling their house can have 20 showings in two weeks with 20 different families and their real estate agents walking through their home but cannot have a friend over in their backyard for a drink.
It all seems so… incompetent. Premiers are making deals with individual states, and yet they are not consulting the federal government. Mixed messages galore. When I was picking up antibiotics at the pharmacy today I heard the pharmacist say to a patient: “You have a guaranteed vaccine date of X but it may be earlier!”. What a mess. Even if you do pay out of pocket to get vaccinated the government spends more money making you quarantine and getting you tested. Canadians are allowed to travel into the U.S.A for essential medical procedures, yet this vaccine is not deemed essential. It's easy to understand why I walked across the border because I was aware how much of a disaster government “quarantine” hotels have become. It is with a heavy heart that I say I knew could do better, which I did. I quarantined for 14 days in my home, had no contact with anyone, and had to do at home covid tests that I was given at the border despite the fact I had only crossed to protect myself and others and had provided a negative test before returning. The great vaccine hunt of 2021 could not be more bizarre. It is not only in Canada either, the U.K, the E.U and the U.S.A all have different rules. We cannot agree on things like vaccine passports, and travel has almost become a shameful thing to do. So many changes, so many thoughts racing through my head, I do not know how to organize them. Maybe this is the way? Maybe it is not. Maybe I overreacted? maybe not. The great hunt for a vaccine in 2021 is fraught with anxiety, doubt and fear. I have talked about the lack, or overabundance of episteme before. Epistemology, it seems, has taken a bow and exited stage left. Trying to figure out all the ramifications of these last 16 months and where all of this is going to lead brings me to a quote from the movie “Sicario”. The protagonist asks: "how do Mexican cartels work?" she is told: “that’s like asking how a watch works, for now let's just keep an eye on the time.” In a way we are all waiting for the right time. We are waiting in lines and for our turns. More importantly, we are waiting for things to return to “normal”.
I was optimistic about things going back to normal before the great vaccine hunt of 2021, I figured we would all slip back into our roles and society would blossom. I looked at history and saw how society “recovered” from drastic events, and humanity lived on. What I did not consider was perhaps this was the first of many dominoes to fall. Perhaps this pandemic has emphasized the cracks in our country, in our continent and in our world. Francis Fukuyama wrote how the world had reached “the end of history” after the Soviet Union fell in the early 90’s. The naivety of such a notion is glaringly obvious today. My pandemic journey has led me to believe that our understanding of the world is not so sound. The great vaccine hunt of 2021 may have led me to salvation, but it also illustrated a quote attributed to John Bunyan: “Then I saw there was a way to hell, even from the gates of heaven.” Anxiety, dread and terror seem to have overtaken these strange times, or perhaps not. With so much incorrect certainty floating around the only right thing to say is “I don’t know”. A lack of knowing surmises the struggle this world faces today. We will all continue to face it in our journey during the great vaccine hunt of 2021.