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Coming Out Of COVID Part 1: 'I need the community willing to be vaccinated'

Coming Out of COVID is a five-part series where GuelphToday looks at various issues as we begin to emerge out of the pandemic
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Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

Vaccines play a huge role in safety as we move forwards toward eliminating COVID-19.

Dr. Nicola Mercer, medical officer of health and CEO of Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health said she’s quite optimistic that a majority of the community will opt for the vaccine while others will wait. 

WDG Public Health says 70 per cent of the population needs to be immunized in order to eliminate COVID-19, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it won’t pop up here and there.

Mercer said the community's first step is for people to educate themselves with reliable sources so people know what the vaccines are, how they work, and how long they last. 

“By doing so, I need the community willing to be vaccinated,” said Mercer. 

Mercer said studies about the virus’s transmission in people with low symptoms are still being conducted and community members will still have to wear a mask as the data comes in and the research continues.

“If you think once you get immunized, you’re going to stop wearing a mask, that’s not the way it’s going to work,” said Mercer. “The science will tell us when the masks can come off.”

Mercer said for the small number of people who are unable to get immunized, the rest of us need to protect them by getting the vaccine themselves. 

“I do know that the more people that are immunized, it will protect our economy, it will protect our healthcare sector, our long term care homes,” said Mercer. 

Now that masks have become common practice, Mercer said she would like to see community members continue to wear them into the future when they have a cough or cold.

“That is the behaviour we’ve seen especially in eastern countries where people wear masks more often as they go out in society and it would be nice to see that,” said Mercer.

She also believes many public interactions indoors post-pandemic might change such as keeping plexiglass to protect front-facing staff.

“And of course hand hygiene. I really hope that's one of the lessons that we’ve all learned. Wash your hands a lot frequently. It does keep you healthier.”

Safety is not just limited to preventing virus transmission. There’s a lot unknown about COVID-19’s long-term effects and these studies are happening in our backyard. 

Researchers at the University of Guelph are already tracking COVID-19 infection outcomes so they can better predict complications and prepare for the needs of recovering patients.

Melanie Wills, director of the G. Magnotta Lyme Disease Research Lab who has studied Lyme disease for years, pivoted her focus onto COVID-19 because she saw similar presentations in Lyme disease, parallels which she finds concerning. 

She said there’s a much-misunderstood part of Lyme disease where individuals have a long-standing infection that continues to drive various symptoms, something they're seeing with the COVID-19 infection. 

Wills said people who’ve contracted COVID around the globe have been finding each other on online forums, support groups and advocacy groups to talk about the commonalities in their story. 

“What we've seen people report is right across the board, every system of the body that's potentially affected,” said Wills.  

She said trends they're seeing include new onset fatigue, profound brain fog and lack of energy in muscles among people who prior to contracting the virus, were healthy. 

“And now there's this very sudden very precipitous decline in their health, and a trace back to a COVID case. So, from our perspective, it really begs the question, what kind of trajectory is COVID set you up for?” said Wills. 

“We're wondering if there are commonalities that can allow us to intervene, basically, in these cases in the future and kind of correct for whatever the issues are, on a pathological level or a physiological level.” 

With the vaccine comes hope and undoubtedly, there will be people for and against the vaccine. 

According to a recent survey by the marketing and polling firm Leger, nine per cent of Canadians believe that vaccines are dangerous and should not be taken or given to the public. It also showed that 28 percent of Canadians indicated that they will take the first COVID-19 vaccine available while 45 per cent indicated that they would wait for other vaccines to be available.

Maya J. Goldenberg, professor of philosophy at the U of G who has recently expanded her research to include vaccine hesitancy and the public’s lack of trust in scientific institutions, said people will be hesitant and they will get defensive in some cases. 

“This has been an anxious year and so we’re constantly reevaluating the kind of risks that we see as imminent,” said Goldenberg. 

“We're all stressed right now so we tend to get very divided very quickly.”

“That is perfectly reasonable to be unsure especially because these questions (about getting the vaccine) were being asked before the vaccine was even available,”

She said bombarding anyone with scientific information about the vaccine gets people’s back up.

“When people are hesitant about vaccines, it's usually not a scientific issue, it's not like they're missing a key piece of information, it's usually some kind of generational fear and anxiety,” said Goldenberg.

“So it makes more sense to find out where that fear and anxiety is coming from.”

She said the key is to be kind. Look out for yourself and look out for others. People’s attitudes can change. 

“This is a time we need our loved ones and we need our friends for support,” said Goldenberg.

It’s also not just about the vaccine. Masks play a large role going forward. 

WDG Public Health was the first public health organization in Ontario to mandate face masks for indoor settings in June and the City of Guelph was quick to enforce those orders.

However, wearing a mask is ultimately an individual decision.

Stacey Hare, communications officer at the city said it does not plan to strictly enforce masks and prefers to ‘ask’ people to follow the guidelines, leaving it up to the individual. 

“We're still a public service,” said Hare. “We respect people's privacy. If they have a medical condition, that's their business, and we're not going to ask them every single day on their way to work.”

“And we also appreciate that confronting someone who refuses to wear a mask is likely to cause a verbal or even physical conflict. And that's not safe for people either.”

Hare said the city understands the primary place of transmission in the community is in homes and that’s a place they will not police. 

 “So we're left with what we can manage. And that means restricting your movement outside your house,” said Hare.

The series:

Monday, Part 1: 'I need the community willing to be vaccinated'

Tuesday, Part 2: The economy learns to adjust

Wednesday, Part 3: Rural issues, rural response

Thursday, Part 4: From stunned compliance to hope

Friday, Part 5: Hopefully a gentler, kinder place


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Anam Khan

About the Author: Anam Khan

Anam Khan is a journalist who covers numerous beats in Guelph and Wellington County that include politics, crime, features, environment and social justice
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