Some restrictions are back. Others aren’t. The number of people getting sick with COVID-19 is increasing. The variants are gaining. The information on the vaccines keeps changing. If you’re confused by everything going on, it’s completely understandable.
To be clear, the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus variants have not developed new tricks to penetrate our masks or avoid being destroyed by soap and water. Limiting the number of people we’re in contact with and the amount of time with them; washing hands and wearing masks — even when outdoors if with others — work.
If you’ve been vaccinated, it takes at least two weeks for the vaccine to start to protect you and since we can’t be sure it works in everyone, these precautions are necessary until we reach herd protection with approximately 70 per cent of the population vaccinated.
It’s frustrating not to be able to hug or be close, especially if you’ve been vaccinated, but these rules need to be followed. If we vaccinate the population as planned, we should eventually be able to safely relax a lot of these restrictions — but not now.
Constantly changing restrictions without a clear formula shared with the population for their removal creates uncertainty and worry. This is the pattern that we have unfortunately been following since the start of the pandemic and it is far more traumatic to people’s mental health than the limitations themselves.
It’s normal for recommendations about vaccination to change as data becomes available. That’s an indication that the review process is successfully protecting us. Remember the original concerns about allergic reactions with the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines? They were headlines at the time but we’ve not heard much since because it wasn’t an ongoing issue. Similarly, the original data supporting the submission to Health Canada of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was based on studies including people aged 18 to 65. In the same way that it has not been approved for use in people younger than 18, Health Canada initially felt it couldn’t be cleared for people over 65. Once that data was available, Health Canada did not delay making the vaccine available to those older age groups.
Reports out of Europe about clotting have now raised a reasonable concern. They were mainly in people under the age of 55. We still don’t know if they‘re related to the vaccine and why only in Europe. There may or may not be a real link, but based on what we now know, the prudent action is to limit the use of the vaccine based on the information currently available. Transparency and immediate accessibility to information as it appears — rather than waiting for the full analysis — can create confusion and anxiety.
COVID-19 is the menace. The virus that causes it will continue to mutate as long as we allow it to infect people. What worked before to stop its spread works now. The wisest course of action is to let the vaccination program achieve its goals and in the meantime continue with what works. As tough as it may be to continue to do that, persisting for a few more weeks or months is not unreasonable.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the confusion. Stay the course.
Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at McGill Medical School as well as an Attending Physician in the Emergency Department of the McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.