27 June 2021 — A Sudden Two-Dose Summer

It’s disorienting how quickly the vaccination situation has dramatically changed for the better. Only seven weeks ago, on May 11, Prime Minister Trudeau confirmed that there would be enough COVID-19 vaccines coming into the country to offer every eligible Canadian their first shot by this summer, and enough doses for everyone to be fully vaccinated by September. “A one-dose summer sets us up for a two-dose fall,” stated Trudeau, “when we’ll be able to talk about going back to school, back to work, and back to more normality.”

Since then, a significant influx of vaccines has thrown those projected timelines out the window. Today, for example, Toronto set a North American record for most doses administered in a day — over 26,700 — at a clinic held in the arena usually occupied by the Maple Leafs — a team which had been obliging enough to quickly vacate the scene weeks earlier. (“Show the Maple Leafs and the Raptors that good things happen when you take the winning shot!” enthused Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, in a tweet which I found funnier, given how the hockey season abruptly ended in Toronto, than I expect she intended it to be.)

Here in Ottawa, over 708,500 city residents have received at least the first vaccine dose (Jessie’s was June 18!), and a second dose has been administered to exactly 224,663 Ottawanians — including, on June 26, to me, only 5 days after my first day of eligibility to move my appointment up from its originally scheduled date of August 27. The result of this tsunami of dosages has been nothing short of amazing: new daily cases in the city are now often in the single digits; the weekly incidence rate, a rolling seven-day total of new COVID-19 cases expressed per 100,000 residents, had, by June 27, plummeted to 8.2 from a high of 225 on April 17. Incredible and, until very recently, seemingly unattainable numbers.

My appointment yesterday could not have gone more smoothly, though that was decidedly not the case for the trip to the clinic: three blocks from my house, on badly rutted Iona Street, my road bike hit a crevice and the rear tire immediately deflated. As I ran home (in Teva sandals) with the incapacitated bicycle, I cursed myself for taking that notoriously jarring street; I then had to restart the now considerably more stressful trip — given a sudden and unanticipated concern that I could miss my appointment time — again, on Jessie’s heavy and slow touring bike.

But all was fine in the end: I presented my battered, 35-year-old red and white Ontario health card (only half of which now exists, but luckily it’s the part with my health number), and 15 minutes later I was on my way, in a light drizzle, home and then on to a multiple-player and indoor board game evening at my friend Simon’s house. This is still a novel event: only the weekend before, a game involving more than two players had happened for the first time since mid-September. Nine months.

So what next? A Public Health Agency of Canada infographic released on June 25 provided, finally, national guidance (“high level advice” is how Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, characterized it) for vaccinated Canadians: the diagram states that those who are fully vaccinated can now gather outdoors with the partially vaccinated or unvaccinated without masking or physically distancing, and also gather in that manner indoors with small groups of fully vaccinated people. If indoors with individuals who are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated, such as my 11-year-old son Henry, the Public Health Agency suggests that those with two doses could “consider wearing a mask and maintain physical distancing,” particularly if, as is the case with many of the elderly, at risk of more severe disease or outcomes.

It’s certainly good to have some broad guidelines at last — some enticing carrots to further bolster the public health campaign, when for so long it’s only been a series of restrictive sticks — though critics immediately noted that the guidance fails to provide any specifics on best practices for interacting with children, who now constitute one of the largest groups of unvaccinated people in the country. Clinical trial results for children under 12 aren’t currently expected until at least the fall, but almost 20 percent of COVID-19 cases are in children and youth — some 270,000 out of 1.4 million infections recorded nationally to date. This figure is, as Globe and Mail health reporter Andre Picard noted, almost proportional to their share of the population. “While most young people who contract the coronavirus don’t get that sick,” acknowledged Picard, “they can still be vectors — that is, they spread the coronavirus to others, even when they are symptom-free.” Needless to say — especially given experts’ prediction that the more-transmissible delta variant will, by this fall, be having a larger impact in Ottawa — I am looking forward to taking Henry to his first shot, which I fully anticipate being able to book for his 12th birthday, in mid-October.

I felt rather sluggish this morning, but admittedly that seemed as likely as not to be an effect of my evening socialising rather than of the COVID jab. Physical activity usually helps sweep away a hangover, but perhaps the 19-kilometre bike ride that I embarked upon with my neighbour Douglas — circumnavigating the Experimental Farm and Centretown via the Rideau Canal — was a case of overdoing it just a little. By early afternoon I was sprawled out in the hammock, without the energy to go retrieve my now-repaired bike, and by late afternoon I was shivering in bed, my head pounding.

“Maybe all I need is a shot in the arm,” sang Wilco, long before the pandemic, on their understated but fine 1998 album Summerteeth. Surely that merits another listen, today of all days. As I noted after my first dose on April 30, the short-term post-shot effects are more than welcome, as they signify a whole lot of gain; specifically, of gradually regaining the interactions and activities that we have all been denied for much of the past 15 months. A two-dose summer, both immensely welcome and quite unexpected, looks like it might just be able to put some long-missing teeth back into this very summer. Not Blue Skies Music Festival (or any other), not quite yet, but as Danny Michel (who has been playing free virtual “taco night dinner party” shows from his kitchen throughout the pandemic, “in hopes of keeping spirits high”) sings on “Newton’s Apple,” the insanely catchy lead track from his 2001 album In the Belly of a Whale, “I’ve got my eye on bigger things and bluer skies above.”

Above and, hopefully now, ahead.

Danny Michel, In the Belly of a Whale
Wilco, Summerteeth.

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Jason Thomson

Jason Thomson

Music, single parenting, and pandemic-tinted views of the world from central Ottawa, Canada.