One year ago today, Health Canada gave a green light to the first COVID-19 vaccine approved in Canada. This was an historic moment that marked a turning point in the global pandemic. Since Dec. 9, 2020, more than 62 million doses of vaccine have been administered across the country. We are far better protected today than we were a year ago, and with paediatric vaccines now available for children ages 5 to 11, we can protect many of our youngest members of society and enhance protection for all of us.
As we end the second year of this pandemic, we need to remind ourselves that, unfortunately, it is not over. This fall, provincial and territorial governments advanced reopening plans and began lifting public health restrictions. It is a cycle we are now too familiar with – prematurely lifting restrictions and issuing ambitious reopening plans, only to see case counts rise, health systems under strain, and more stringent measure reinstated. Meanwhile, only about 43 per cent of the world’s population is fully vaccinated, giving the virus plenty of opportunity to circulate and mutate. The emergence of a concerning new variant is an important reminder that we must do our part as a wealthy nation to ensure vaccine equity worldwide; none of us are safe until all of us are safe.
We must remain vigilant. So many Canadians have sacrificed and done what is necessary to prevent further spread of the virus and to protect their loved ones and their communities — getting vaccinated and following public health guidance. I thank you for working with us, your physicians, to help keep us all safe.
This has been an especially difficult year for those of us working to protect Canadians. Not only has the pandemic stressed already under-resourced health systems but increasing division in our country over vaccination has taken a serious toll on health workers. From demonstrations on hospital grounds and health-care settings to online vitriol, a minority of individuals have felt emboldened to threaten, create fear, and in some extreme cases, force health-care workers to throw in the towel. We were relieved to see the federal government respond rapidly, introducing Bill C-3 which would make it illegal to intimidate or obstruct health-care workers and patients seeking care. The bill is currently in second reading. My hope is that it passes quickly so health-care workers can safely do their jobs again, serving our patients and communities.
With 2021 coming to a close, I am optimistic that the next year will bring us a little closer to the finish line of this pandemic. No one wants a fifth wave, and everyone has a role to play in avoiding it. It will require us to continue working together.
My wishes for this festive season are simple: continue to mask and maintain physical distancing, get vaccinated, get your third dose once it becomes available, get your children vaccinated, and please, say thank you to any health worker you see. They need and deserve our support more than ever.
Dr. Katharine Smart
President, Canadian Medical Association