In Our Words: Vaccines are here - but let’s not get complacent yet

I am one lucky son-of-a-gun.

By the time you read this, barring some sort of horrific problem or scheduling error, I will be one of the more than 400,000 people in Manitoba who has received a COVID-19 vaccine. You may have noticed on this week’s front page that eligibility requirements for COVID-19 vaccines in northern Manitoba have opened up pretty wide this week. As of Monday morning (and I know because I called the provincial hotline literally seconds after the change went into effect), anyone over 18 years old who lives in northern Manitoba or who works here (including people in Creighton and Denare Beach, if you spend a lot of time in Manitoba) can get their first dose.

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I came through fine after the shot, with few side effects - the only one I had was a slightly sore left bicep, which is where I got my shot. I know some people who have had slightly more severe side effects - chills, nausea, more severe arm pain - but I don't know a single person in my own life who's had the shot and now regrets it.

It brings with it a feeling of hope that feels almost foreign right now. We, as a region, have had very few reasons to feel positive in the last little while. This is a light at the end of the tunnel that’s been the last year or so - a long, difficult, tedious slog. Sitting at home has never felt more arduous. I haven’t seen more people in Flin Flon this excited about “getting the dose” since… well, ever. Especially since the phrase “getting the dose”, until fairly recently, wasn’t exactly positive.

This is also a rare occasion, in that it’s making me have to tip my cap to the provincial government. I’ve been almost consistently opposed to so many provincial policies - restricting things too late, making changes that don’t make sense, not bothering to enforce the orders that are on the books, et cetera - that I almost didn’t remember what a good provincial COVID-19 policy looked like.

The best policy, before this opening up of vaccines, was providing vaccine doses to First Nations early, once the first shipments of vaccine arrived. If you look at where within the Northern Health Region (NHR) people are getting sick, it’s pretty staggering - by far, Indigenous communities have been harder hit by COVID-19 cases. The Island Lake district, way over yonder by the Ontario border in the crook of Manitoba’s elbow, has seen more than 1,600 people and counting get sick.

That said, cases are high in so many areas. Almost a thousand people have gotten sick in and around Thompson, almost 700 in Cross Lake/Pimicikamak Cree Nation, almost 600 in The Pas/OCN.

Here in the Flin Flon district - which covers Snow Lake, Cranberry Portage, Sherridon and other areas, including cabin country and various subdivisions and smaller communities - we’ve been extraordinarily lucky so far. Since COVID-19 first washed up on our shores over a year ago, we’ve had a total of 140 cases. That total has slowly grown in recent months, but that number is remaining - somewhat - stable.

Meanwhile, a place like The Pas/OCN is a bit smaller than twice the size of Flin Flon - their caseload is more than four times higher. Thompson is just under three times bigger than Flin Flon, but they have had exactly seven times as many cases. Hell, Pukatawagan/Mathias Colomb Cree Nation has much fewer people than Flin Flon does and they’ve had the misfortune of having over triple the cases we’ve had here.

We’re all lucky sons-of-guns. We can all now - assuming you’re over 18 years old, which, by the virtue of the fact you’re reading a newspaper opinion column, I’m guessing you likely are - get a first dose of the shot.

I have only one piece of advice for everybody else getting the shot. It’s simple - don’t get cocky.

The vaccines we have for COVID-19 are the most effective means we have to kill off this damned virus, but they need time to work and there are still people around who either can’t have, couldn’t get or shouldn’t have their shots yet.

Getting your shot doesn’t mean you just get to throw away your mask, get up close and personal on people and talk moistly at them to your heart’s content. This stuff takes time to work. The first dose takes about two weeks to fully kick in, and after that, you have to have a second dose - which aren’t even being booked right now, except for certain seniors and medical personnel - which takes another two weeks to fully kick in.

Getting the dose does not mean you’re 10 feet tall and bulletproof. It’s not super soldier serum. It’s the first step you can take on your way back to normal. It’s not a blanket waiver to throw parties or travel around willy-nilly or do everything you couldn’t before - at least, not yet. There will be a time for all that and while it isn’t right now, it’s getting closer and closer every day.

Another important thing is that any health care issue in the north stacks on top of existing health issues down south - after all, people in most need of care within the NHR typically end up in Winnipeg, where the situation is not exactly rosy and variants of concern are rising. So many COVID-19 cases in the north have come from major cities, with people getting exposed in all manner of methods and places. Avoiding the illness at all cost doesn’t just help you - it helps your family, friends, community and even other communities. People you will likely never meet may live longer if you choose to keep things low to the ground for the time being.

So, that’s it for the words of advice. Take it or don’t. I can only suggest what seems to make the most sense to me, looking at the evidence and science regarding COVID-19 - and, for the first time, relating my own experience.

Go get the dose. Let’s get back on the road to normal life. I’ll see you around.

Let’s be lucky sons-of-guns together.

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