The Plague-Ground – A shot in the arm

The vaccine’s no longer coming. It’s here.

The trouble is, its presence is as spotty and enduring as our response to the pandemic itself. And by “here,” I don’t just mean Canada, but the world.

EU leaders on the weekend rushed to quell “mounting disquiet over the slow pace of national vaccination campaigns,” while in Britain, only half of hospitals and two-thirds of GPs had received their promised allocations. In the US, Washington claimed that 20 million doses would be given out by Dec. 31st, but only 2.1 million were. Meanwhile, here in Canada, according to Our World in Data, by January 1, the total number of vaccination doses administered per 100 Canadians was 0.26. For the U.S., it was 0.84 and for Britain, 1.47. In other words, we’re at the back of a very slow pack. This doesn’t bode well for saving thousands of lives or tens of thousands of businesses.

Yes, I get that the Pfizer vaccine needs very special freezing; yes, our health-care workers are exhausted; yes, inoculating a nation’s entire population with a completely new kind of vaccine practically guarantees screwups and delays.

But what’s gone wrong here is different from what’s going wrong elsewhere.

I blame it on passive entitlement, which is the attitude that there are certain things that can’t and shouldn’t change in our established and unspoken habits, even though the pandemic is raging through Bay and Bloor 10 times more ferociously today than it did last summer.

I first twigged to this when I learned that the Ontario Government had shut down vaccine clinics over the holidays. Front-line workers deserved a break. They got that break. But as one doctor tweeted: “There’s a large cohort of MDs ready and willing to administer the #CovidVaccine 24/7. But we’re gaslighted, told there aren’t issues in rolling out the vaccine (while provincial leaders are on holidays). Let us know when to help.”

Surely, retired General Rick Hillier and General Dany Fortin, in charge of the vaccine rollout for Ontario and Canada respectively, were brought on for their planning and logistical skills. Didn’t one of them think to ask: “Who can help over Christmas so we don’t have to stop vaccinating people for three days?” What they seem to have said was: “We may be at a war with the coronavirus, but our troops have a right to take Christmas off from fighting it. Even though the coronavirus licks its lips on weekends and holidays.”

The same thinking infected those who said: “We can only use half our allotment of vaccines because everyone needs two jabs of the vaccine.” By doing that, many more of us would get sick and die in the interim. When it became clear that the pipeline for more vaccines would ensure enough second vaccines would be available in a few months for those who’d got their first jab, Ontario and other governments quickly changed their minds.

But when the Globe and Mail tried to confirm this on December 28th, “a representative of Health Canada did not answer a request for information on new vaccine shipments on Monday, saying in an e-mail that the offices were closed.”

Health Canada’s offices are closed on Monday, Dec. 28th, in the middle of a pandemic? There wasn’t even a duty officer on call to answer a serious media question?

Which brings me to Rod Phillips. No, his downfall had nothing to do with vaccines. But the issue of whether you can leave the country in the middle of a pandemic exhibits the same kind of thinking that halting vaccinations in the middle of a pandemic does. The fact that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had to issue written orders to his MLAs to not leave the country on vacation speaks to a culture that feels “Not only will I do this – but I have a right to do it – unless I’m officially told otherwise.”

“It” here can range from going to St. Bart’s for three weeks, to shutting down vaccination sites because of the holidays. Again, they’re not the same thing; but they’re on the same spectrum. They could even be morally equivalent.

We often laugh at the ridiculous signs that warn us to remove our child before folding a baby stroller, or to never use a lit match to check the gas level in our car, or the warning on a box of rat poison that it has been found to cause cancer in rats. These assume that we can’t figure out for ourselves not to put our hands on an open flame.

But they also imply that we can shut down for the holidays simply because we’ve always done that and it’s part of our routine. So for me, the real scandal around Rod Phillips isn’t that he thought he was special; it’s that he didn’t think he was special at all.

Surely, the Generals know that we have some statutory holidays coming up: Family Day is on Monday, February 15th and Good Friday, on April 2nd.  They should be asking: “Who will we get to cover for our regular vaccinators on those days, and can we confirm them now?” Surely, someone around the provincial cabinet tables is already raising their hand to say: “Can we not get blind-sided by the predictable and obvious again?”

Perhaps not.

This all reminds me of the CEO of the Royal Mint, David Dingwall, who back in 2005, in testifying why his expenses were so high, said: “I’m entitled to my entitlements.”

In fact, he used the word “entitlement” 27 times during his two hours of testimony.

Very Canadian.

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25 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – A shot in the arm”

  1. I totally agree. Why can’t we divert the graduating classes from Ontario’s medical, nursing and dental schools to supplement the professionals administering this vaccine – setting up clinics in currently empty churches and community centers. The planning for this rollout could have started in the summer. By then, the refrigeration needs of the various vaccines were already known. The current rollout is completely underwhelming!

  2. My mother-in-law who, at 98, resides in a UHN operated long-term care facility in downtown Toronto received her first shot on Saturday. My husband, deemed an essential visitor received his on Sunday – would that as a wife (who lives with an essential visitor), I was considered essential too.

    1. I agree, Bob. I believe that thousands of exhausted essential workers would have volunteered to be part of the solution, and would have worked tirelessly to support the vaccination program. It is a ray of hope, a dose of sunshine. I would rather jab people in the arm than put probes into their noses. When the vaccine arrived, there should have been a doubling down of effort. Israel has already vaccinated at a rate that leads the world, while we Canadians took a winter break. We are only prolonging our agony.

  3. But, Bob,….. you & yours are “entitled” to a much better& fulfilling 2021, ….bring on the vaccines 24/7 & thanks for your continuing insightful blogs❗️

  4. Bob – you are completely right on the money yet again! Thanks for saying so eloquently what we are all thinking. If this is how Generals Rick Hillier and Dany Fortin ran their teams in the military …

  5. Joseph Rosenthal & Diane Rosenthal


  6. Michele Carroll

    In 40 years of watching the Government of Ontario closely in government relations and policy roles I have never been more disillusioned and disappointed by inept government than I am today. Far too much control from the Centre, far too much partisan advice
    From the kids positioned against a decimated and discouraged professional civil service. The ministry of Health started a revolutionary overhaul of health care oversight and delivery in the months leading up to the pandemic. One wonders how that’s going. My first job was in the Bill Davis government. I recall the brilliance of Bob Elgie, Bette Stephenson, Roy McMurtry – people who were well equipped for their jobs. Now more than ever we need the best and the brightest to engage in politics and government. Here’s hoping!! Happy New Year Bob!

  7. I find myself wondering every day “whatever are they thinking”. Rhetorical question of course and the answer is always that they aren’t thinking at all.

    What does it take to jolt us out of our complacency if a pandemic can’t do it?

    1. Kathleen — That’s a wonderfully dark and funny line about being shot in the last days of the war. I said early last year that I didn’t want to die of enthusiasm
      in my glee that the vaccine is here. For huge swaths of us, it isn’t.

    2. I think the Israeli effort shows what can be done, especially in a society that’s survived and thrived through collective effort
      and common will. It also helped that they called it a ‘national security’ issue, which it kind of is. I weep for our complacency.

    3. Michele — I too fear the bullies in short pants. It also reminds me that today “the best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.”
      Thanks for checking in on this.

  8. On a lighter note, I just want to know if those two little figurines are Bob and Jean toys, and where can we get some?

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