opinion teaser

The triumph of science

I confess that I teared up a little when I saw pictures on social media showing health care workers in Ashcroft getting their COVID-19 vaccinations. In a space of months, something that had been an abstract concept (a vaccination for COVID-19) became a reality, administered to people around the world. Even then, however, it was something far removed, until I saw people I knew getting the vaccine in my own town. It was no longer a distant thing: it was here, and it was being given to friends and neighbours.

When I was young, polio was something very real but dimly understood by me and my peers; we whispered about the ominous-sounding “iron lungs”. The only person I knew who had had polio was the principal of R. M. Grauer elementary school in Richmond, for whom I occasionally babysat. Mr. Mukai had a brace on one leg and walked with a cane, which was the only outward sign that he had survived a disease that, until the development of the Salk vaccine in 1955, killed or paralyzed half a million people worldwide each year.

Canada was declared polio-free in 1994, and today it has been eradicated in all but two countries worldwide. The success of vaccines in vanquishing polio cannot be downplayed; by any standard it is a triumph of science. Now we have a vaccine for COVID-19, and while no one is promising that the virus will be eradicated anytime soon, it is another scientific success.

However, now that the vaccine is here, many people are trying to get their particular group to the front of the queue for what is, at the moment, a very limited resource. All these groups have excellent claims, but I think the B.C. government has done the right thing in looking at the science, determining which people are most at risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19, and creating a vaccine strategy that acknowledges this.

Most people are familiar with the concept of triage when it comes to medical services. If I show up at Emergency needing stitches, I understand that other people in more immediate danger will be seen to before me. Similarly, in an accident with multiple victims, those with life-threatening injuries get priority. So it is with the COVID-19 vaccine; those most under threat will get it first. It’s a decision based firmly in science, and I’m okay with that.

Speaking of science and the coronavirus, the two appear to be going hand in hand once more to the south of us. Donald Trump will be remembered by history as having bungled his country’s handling of the coronavirus more comprehensively than almost any other world leader. If for no other reason than that, his departure from the White House did not come a moment too soon; cold comfort for the friends and family of the more than 420,000 Americans who have died because of COVID-19, but at least those now in charge don’t think science is a dirty word.

Another ignominious departure from high office came recently, when Governor General Julie Payette abruptly resigned following numerous reports that she had bullied and verbally abused staff at Rideau Hall. It did not take long to find this was something of a pattern in previous positions, and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — presumably blinded by her supposed “star power” — failed to carry out the most cursory of background checks to see whether or not she was suited to the position.

It appears to be a classic case of “looked good on paper” but not passing the smell test in the real world. Here’s hoping that the next GG will be vetted properly, will not turn out to be a serial bully, will actually enjoy doing the job, and will display a basic competency at it. If those basic criteria for people looking at high office had been considered in the first place, both Canada and the U.S. would probably be better off today.

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