Gillian Deacon is an author and broadcaster based in Toronto.
I live what many people consider to be a health-minded lifestyle. I shop local and organic whenever possible; I take vitamin supplements; when I get a sore throat, I gargle with oil of oregano instead of taking cold medicine; I have long cleaned my bathtub and kitchen sink with baking soda. I wrote about these eco-conscious choices and many more in my 2008 book Green For Life, a cradle-to-grave guide to more sustainable living. My natural-health interests grew deeper in 2011 when I wrote There’s Lead In Your Lipstick: Toxins in Our Everyday Bodycare and How To Avoid Them, a 300-page catalogue of careful research into the unregulated Wild West that is the personal care industry.
Both books became national bestsellers. Clearly there is a large and growing community of health-minded Canadians who want more information and choice about what goes on and in their bodies.
But that skepticism about mainstream body care can, it seems, also creep into a rejection of mainstream medicine. I hear anecdotes of health-conscious neighbours holding off booking their vaccine because they worry it was approved too hastily and might have unforeseen side effects. I read even wilder tales in a recent LA Times series chronicling the deep reach of QAnon conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine disinformation into the Southern California wellness community. I worry that many of my fellow yogis and health-food-store shoppers might be clinging to and misappropriating the holistic idea of “body sovereignty” as a way to legitimize their apprehension and mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine.
I understand the potential for trepidation, and I applaud a considered examination of what we put on and in our bodies. But I part company with the cohort that’s all too quick to bluntly declare “my body, my choice” on the topic of vaccines. I have both of my COVID-19 shots. I posted the requisite selfie on social media, and have gleefully announced my fully vaccinated status to friends at every opportunity.
As of this writing, roughly 78 per cent of Canadians have their first vaccine; less than 40 per cent have had both. Those numbers seem impressive, but are actually much lower than the 90-per-cent fully-vaccinated target that top public health officials say we need to reach to put this pandemic behind us. So as rumblings of vaccine hesitancy and flat-out refusal grow louder in the natural health communities of which I am a presumed part, I feel compelled to reiterate my commitment to the jab.
I understand the fears around side effects and uncertainty. Fear and I are old pals. I have had three cancer diagnoses in the last 10 years – two for aggressive breast cancer, and one for melanoma – and I know too well the leap of faith it can take to put your trust in doctors you’ve only just met, treatments you don’t fully understand, procedures that come with side effects, and possible lifelong lateral consequences.
There were those in my circles who suggested I forego the surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and ancillary hormone therapies for my various cancers. There are alternatives, they said. Raw foods, juiced vegetables, meditation – the list of well-meaning suggestions could fill this page.
So I took up meditation. I bought a juicer and crammed it regularly with kale. But I also put my faith in science, and in results that I could see. I underwent every treatment my oncologists recommended, and I remain in their care. Today, I am healthy and strong and bursting with gratitude for the treatments and medical research that allowed me to be able to sit here and write this. And I am equally grateful to the medical professionals I have never met – the many scientists and researchers from around the world who came together and worked around the clock, harnessing their collective brilliance against this unprecedented health crisis in order to produce safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that are now helping us get our lives back.
I’m a firm believer in asking questions, and in checking twice before making a decision that affects one’s health. So during the COVID-19 pandemic, I did – and then I signed myself and all three of my young adult male children up to get vaccines as soon as they were available to us. I did my research – and the choice was clear.
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