Canada’s 50% vaccine milestone is psychological boost to keep going
Raywat Deonandan is feeling more optimistic these days, and he has noticed a renewed optimism among many of his colleagues in epidemiology and infectious diseases.
After months of observing negative trends in COVID-19, Deonandan is “filled with joy” to see cases, hospitalizations and deaths decline across much of Canada as vaccination rates reach new highs.
Canada’s deployment reached a milestone on Saturday with 50 percent of its total population at least partially inoculated, although 58 percent of the country’s adult population received at least one dose on Friday.
The 50 percent marker will not have an immediate impact on plans to reopen services or lift public health restrictions, but Deonandan says it signifies a more encouraging new era for the pandemic in Canada.
And the psychological impact of this cannot be ignored.
“This is an important step,” said the University of Ottawa epidemiologist. “It’s like, Hey, as a company we’ve passed a big point in this marathon and we can almost see the finish line.
“And even though we’re all tired, we’re going to sprint to the end together.”
An increase in vaccine supply in Canada took the national rollout from slow to supersonic in April and May, with a moving average of more than 370,000 doses administered per day last week.
That, added to the Canadians’ apparent willingness to receive their jabs – some lined up for hours in the rain or snow outside pop-up clinics – gives Deonandan hope for what summer might be like.
“It means people want to get out of this and they want to do their part to get out of it,” he said. “So I’m very optimistic and I think a lot of the scientists who watch the numbers are also optimistic.”
The vaccination campaign helped reduce transmission, Deonandan says, but lockdowns and restrictions have also played a key role.
And while the optimism is warranted, experts add that caution is in order in this interim phase, as half of Canada’s residents are still unprotected against COVID-19.
Health Canada has said it would like to see at least 75 percent of eligible Canadians – those 12 and older – vaccinated with one dose and 20 percent fully inoculated before the measures are relaxed. Less than 5% of Canadians had received both vaccines on Friday.
Deonandan says vaccination numbers alone won’t dictate when to reopen. The number of cases, hospital and intensive care admissions, test-to-positivity ratios and reproduction rate (how many people a positive case is supposed to infect) all need to go down.
Keith Dobson, professor of psychology at the University of Calgary, says Canada’s deployment has heightened his optimism that life inside the country may soon return to relative normalcy. But there is still work to be done.
Dobson says hitting the 50% threshold is psychologically similar to having a second wind after the middle of a run or noticing positive changes in your body after working out for months.
“We know from studies of human behavior that when people get closer to a goal, their energy usually goes up, and that’s what we see,” Dobson said. “The key, of course, is not to burn out before you get there. So we have to keep working hard to achieve our goal.”
Some countries are closer to their goals than others.
The UK, which had 55% of its people at least partially vaccinated on Thursday, is expected to ease restrictions further next week, including allowing small gatherings of up to six people between two households.
The United States, meanwhile, recently issued guidelines for fully immunized people that included relaxed mask policies in some interior areas. While the overall vaccination rate in the United States is now slightly lower than that of Canada, a higher percentage of Americans are fully immunized.
Deonandan says epidemiological trends around the world offer a model for what is to come.
“It means (the vaccination) is working. We are on this path to be these countries, ”he said.
Steve Joordens, a psychology expert at the University of Toronto, says vaccines have renewed hope for many.
Still, Joordens says, it might be difficult for some to be optimistic after experiencing cycle lockdown periods and an increase in the number of COVID-19 in the past 15 months. Another anxiety-causing unknown is the potential threat of newer vaccine-resistant variants, he adds.
But with vaccines reaching more people every day, Joordens says the current situation is different from past waves. And he feels a level of cohesion between people that has not been seen since the early days of the pandemic.
“That milestone (50 percent) is a big number because it’s like, ‘OK, we’re over half now,” Joordens said. “The majority of us walk the same.
“So that kind of gives us an idea of how the team is working to beat this virus.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 22, 2021.