May 1, 2021 — The Morning After V-Day
“It’s been a long time coming,” sang The Tragically Hip, in their smouldering 1991 ballad “Long Time Running.” “It’s well worth the wait.“
I’ve always loved that 30-year-old song; from Road Apples, it’s one of the quieter tunes in The Hip’s repertoire, released during a long-ago time when most of us had the good fortune to only be exposed to pandemics through medieval history classes. Obviously Gord Downie wasn’t singing about COVID-19 vaccination, but the song came to my mind yesterday, my long-anticipated V-Day, after I received my AstraZenaca shot from a friendly Pharmasave pharmacist on Bank Street.
Of course a wave of relief and gratitude washed over me in the moments immediately after the big jab — I mean, as recently as last fall, there was no certainty that a vaccine would be forthcoming this year at all, and never did I expect to be eligible for an appointment in the same month as my mother. The latest research suggests that the AstraZenaca shot is almost 90 percent effective at curbing hospital admissions from COVID-19 within 4–5 weeks of the initial dose. All hail scientific endeavour!
It’s almost impossible to overstate the reassurance of being protected from the horrifying ravages of this awful virus — by chance, it was also yesterday when I read a truly shocking pandemic mortality comparison: in only 14 months following Canada’s first COVID-19 death on March 8, 2020, 24,204 Canadians have died of the virus. To put this numbing figure in context, approximately 45,000 Canadians died during World War Two, which extended for nearly six years, from 1939 to 1945.
However, in the short-term, and even as the vaccination campaign in Ontario further ramps up — on April 29, it was announced that all adults will be eligible to book appointments by the week of May 24 — not a whole lot will change: masks will continue to be worn, concerts and other live events will remain almost exclusively virtual. But eventually these precautions and other public health orders will be rescinded, and life will begin to return to normal. (Perhaps there will even be RedBlacks games: the Canadian Football League is now hoping that restrictions will be loosened by August 5, the newly proposed start date for its revamped 14-game season.) Though exactly when these changes might be put into effect remains fully unclear — as Globe and Mail columnist Robyn Urback noted, “Canadian health officials face an added communications challenge in trying to explain why a single dose of vaccine is believed to be effective enough to stretch the interval between doses by up to four months, but simultaneously not effective enough to allow partially vaccinated individuals to ease up on some restrictions.”
But all in good time, I suppose. For now, just over 24 hours after my shot, I’m just hoping to feel better soon. Around 11 hours after the appointment, my evening went swiftly downhill; I started to experience typical flu symptoms — achiness, chills and extreme tiredness. Better this morning, but I remain entirely lacking in energy. Ironically, yesterday morning Marie-Pierre, my director at work, sent me a very tongue-in-cheek article from McSweeneys: written by Talia Argondezzi, and entitled “Vaccine Side Effect, Or Have You Just Been Alive For 40 Years?”, the spoof quiz suggested that, post-vaccine, “You may be feeling fatigued — not ordinary tiredness, but a profound, bone-deep weariness, like you’re clothed in a suit of chainmail, or like the air has suddenly become as heavy as a truck pressing you into your couch.” According to the answer key, these symptoms are indicative of either mild side effects from the vaccine, or that “You’ve been alive for at least 40 years. Congratulations on getting the vaccine, which comes with a free 24-hour excuse for feeling like the complete fucking garbage you always do.” Well, even if the correct answer is “both,” Argondezzi pretty much hit the nail on the head for how I felt yesterday evening. But it’s a very small price to pay, to understate the obvious.
As the leaves unfurl on the street and tulips add colour to the neighbourhood, there are tentatively positive signs for the province as a whole, and especially locally. Over 30% of Ottawa residents have now had their first vaccine dose, and a range of pandemic-related statistics are headed in the right direction: it now appears that the 3rd wave may have been at its peak when I last wrote, nearly 3 weeks ago. Since then, the rolling 7-day incidence rate of new cases for the city has declined from a peak of 225 to 120.
No one has attributed this improvement to the additional measures announced by Premier Ford on April 16, which included new restrictions on outdoor activities and increased powers for police to stop and question people outside their homes. After widespread and immediate condemnation by police forces themselves, by members of the province’s scientific advisory table and by armchair experts (i.e., voters), some of the announcements were rescinded the following day. Playgrounds would not be no-go zones after all. (“Honest to god,” tweeted Shannon Proudfoot of MacLean’s, “you might as well duct-tape yourself to a yo-yo and snort a Gravol if you live in this province.”) Scientists on the advisory table were apoplectic — and literally despairing — that their advice (and common sense) was, again, being summarily ignored: Dr. Peter Jüni commented that the new outdoor restrictions demonstrated, over a year into the pandemic, that the provincial government still doesn’t understand how the virus spreads; he added that “[April 16] was one of the darkest days in my professional career and also personally…. I feel terrible. I mean, yesterday, I had a crying fit…. It’s just wrong, you know? It’s just wrong.”
I thank my lucky stars that my number came up — that I’ve already been privileged to have had this pandemic protection injected into my body, that I’m among the lucky minority who have been able to, temporarily, feel so crappy to be safe. Even as my ill effects were subsiding, Canadian physician Peter Singer, special advisor to the director general of the World Health Organization, was interviewed on the CBC radio program The Current. Singer noted that, in part because of insufficient vaccine supply, doses haven’t been distributed equitably across the world: in high income countries over 40% have had their first shot, whereas that figure drops to 7–15% in middle income countries, and to below 0.5% in low income countries.
As I tried to find the energy to extract myself from my chair in the den last night, I was listening to Punisher, the lushly atmospheric and much-acclaimed (for good reason, in my view) 2020 album by Phoebe Bridgers. Her whispered tone lurches from anxiety-filled to wistful and nostalgic, and her melancholy lyrics are peppered with supernatural imagery; sitting alone in my nearly-dark house, the ominous songs seemed entirely suited to our collective and ongoing COVID moment. (Wikipedia states that Bridgers’ lyrical themes “include death, trauma, therapy, depression and strained relationships, undercut by her dry wit and straightforward delivery.”) The billboard said the end is near, she sings on the closing track, I turned around there was nothing there.
All this to say that while the 3rd wave might, in some places, be starting to wind down, the end of the pandemic is not yet near or in any sort of focus — there remains, to take only the example of greatest personal relevance, no indication of when a vaccine for kids might be approved. There also, of course, remains a full-on and rapidly expanding crisis in countries such as India — where the official total of COVID-19 cases has nearly doubled in the past three months and has now surpassed 20 million, including over 220,000 deaths.
So for now, I’ll celebrate my vaccine side effects — and chalk them up to being alive for 40-plus years. With, hopefully, many more to come.