Vaccination is a hotly controversial topic, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception. Some have raised their eyebrows about the unusually rapid development and clinical trials processes. Some have argued that our natural human immunity should be given time to mount a battle on its own. And still others have argued that there are tranches of the population who should be hidden away to be protected until they’re vaccinated, whether because of advanced age or compromised immunity, while the rest of us who are young and healthy should simply go about our business in a re-opened economy as we await our poke in the upper arm.

The bottom line is that it has been a year…one year of trying to learn how to protect ourselves and one another amid evolving science, and that’s important to note. It’s not wishy-washy waffling — it’s evolving.

At the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, we have been pushing for gradual re-opening with accompanying relief for affected businesses, while promoting the advice of public health  informed by researchers and scientists. Physicians are largely in agreement about the value of the vaccine and the overwhelming lack of evidence to the contrary. They’ve reminded us that while the vaccines aren’t a cure and will likely not eradicate the disease associated with SARS-CoV-2, they are very likely to reduce the likelihood of severe outcomes and hospitalizations. In other words, there are risks in not taking the vaccine when you become eligible — to your own health and to those around you.

Here are 10 things we’ve been thinking about recently, and of which we wish to remind our members as we move in to the largest immunization campaign in Manitoba’s history:

Vaccine or no vaccine, we must all continue to focus on the fundamentals to reduce transmission. Although we may be feeling less than enthusiastic about continuing to practice the increased hygiene that has turned our hands into dried-up leather, we simply cannot let down our guard, especially with the arrival of variants of concern. Continue to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, stay at home whenever you have symptoms (even if they’re mild), and get tested right away if you do.

If someone in your household is displaying symptoms, your entire household should be self-isolating and awaiting test results before leaving the home. In Manitoba, COVID-19 testing has more than caught up to demand, appointments are available the same day at doctors clinics as well as drive-thru and walk-in/pop-up sites, and it isn’t taking long to receive results. If you haven’t been for a test yet, you’ll set up a secure online account to receive your results. And you don’t need to keep checking it either — you’ll receive a text to alert you to the results delivery. If you need to know where to get a test in Manitoba: https://www.gov.mb.ca/covid19/testing/locations.html

If you’re self-isolating due to symptoms, or an employee in your workplace is self-isolating due to illness or awaiting test results, there is a federal benefit to defray lost wages. The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) is available until September 25, 2021 for exactly this purpose, with up to four weeks of benefits available. No one should have to choose between going to work while ill to be able to pay bills, while potentially putting others at risk.

We are advocating for the ramp up of rapid testing, particularly among essential workers, so we can isolate infected individuals and contact trace aggressively.

We are advocating for the ramp up of the vaccination process for all eligible Manitobans. As of March 29, 11% of eligible adults in Manitoba have received at least one dose of vaccine, and we want to see the needle move much more quickly on those numbers.

We encourage all Manitobans to read and research vaccines and to ask questions — of your physician, chiro, physio, etc, while weighing that we do not yet know the long-term effects of this disease. We have no idea about the impact COVID-19 may have on the healthcare system in the longer-term. We also have no idea whether so-called “long haulers” (people diagnosed with COVID-19 who are still experiencing sometimes debilitating symptoms long after finally receiving a negative test result) are simply outliers, or if there are common underlying conditions and risks that unite them. We urge you to consider reducing the likelihood that you will have to face severe illness should you contract COVID-19. For credible vaccine information, consult the website developed by Doctors Manitoba – www.manitobavaccine.ca

Last week, during his Monday afternoon press conference, Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin shared that he recommends taking whatever vaccine formulation you’re offered. Canada’s and Manitoba’s public health agencies are following the guidelines of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), and if recommendations change, it is because NACI has assessed risks and altered recommendations. On March 29, NACI released new guidelines for the AstraZeneca formulation (currently only available in medical clinics and pharmacies), and out of an abundance of caution, Manitoba’s vaccination team adjusted their recommendations accordingly so that only those ages 55 to 64 should be receiving that type of vaccine. Read the info here.

Consumer confidence, as well as Public Health’s willingness to expand gathering limits and lift restrictions, are dependent upon all of us continuing to follow the recommended protocols and guidelines, combined with increasing immunization rates, in order to keep COVID-19 case counts down. Large-scale events like football games, live concerts, and festivals that we all love so much in Manitoba will not be able to resume until this virus is under control and we are immunized to the point of “a return to normalcy” (likely around 70% uptake according to Dr. Roussin). Click here to read a great article in Nature to learn about why “herd immunity” may not actually be achievable with this virus, but that also provides an excellent explanation for the importance of trying everything we can to minimize the risks of transmission.

If we all want to travel again some day — especially for leisure — we may very well require proof of immunization.

Whether or not you agree with vaccination is absolutely an intensely personal decision. Unfortunately, there is also pressure on us all right now to try to balance our human needs for security, comfort and knowledge with fears, doubts, health concerns, frustration, and yes, even the greater public good. This has been an extremely stressful year for everyone, and it’s important to keep in mind that most of us are trying our best to make the right decisions for ourselves, our families, and for everyone around us. Remember to be patient and kind as we move through this next phase.

At the MCC, we will continue to push for a ramp up of vaccinations in Manitoba, as this may be literally the most crucial piece of the recovery puzzle at this point.

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