Douglas Coupland is an artist and author whose books include Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.
I love vaccines. Throw them at me. Five weeks ago I got AstraZeneca and was feeling pretty stoked about it. Then I began to notice that when I told people I got AstraZeneca, their faces morphed into masks of pity. I consistently got the impression that people – mRNA people, mostly – view AstraZeneca as something ladled out of Donald Trump’s jacuzzi that was then shipped to India in a Ziploc bag stored beneath someone’s armpit, and once in India left to mellow at just over room temperature for three weeks before being sent to Canada and dumped into your arm.
Conversations went something like this:
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“Well of course, I’ll be fine. Right now I’m at 80 per cent immunity. Remember, this is the vaccine that saved England. They had no deaths this week. None.”
“If it makes you feel better to think that, then that’s okay.”
Usually it’s older people who give me this response, older people who got to choose which vaccine they got. People my age and younger got the leftovers – which is fine. AstraZeneca is a terrific vaccine, people! But people my age are used to leftovers. It’s the curse of being Gen X, and it’s not very often I ever discuss Gen X qua Gen X, but I think it’s called for here. For a generation that has grown up knowing their pensions will magically vanish the moment they retire, vaccine leftovers were yet more evidence that the statistical books never seem to balance in their favour and probably never will. When some provinces began turning off the AZ tap this week, I don’t think there was even one remotely surprised 50-year-old in the country.
As far as I can tell, the government is now telling us that people given AstraZeneca for their first dose might have to choose an alternate vaccine as their booster shot. This idea was floated, as far as I could tell, with no science to back up the idea. The only validation out there is a single study from England, the results of which came out this week and reveals people who mix vaccines experience more unpleasant side effects – though the question of what kind of immunity mixing confers won’t be known for several weeks.
So, do I mind getting a different vaccine as a booster? Not necessarily. Am I pissed off? Yes. I’m pissed off because I’m imagining a room full of politicians, not scientists, somewhere in Ottawa, having a meeting to try and gloss over this latest vaccine fiasco. I’m imagining someone’s personal assistant putting up their arm and suggesting, “Maybe we can turn this into a plus. Maybe if we allow people to choose their second shot, they’ll perceive it as a fun and empowering bonus. An opportunity even!” And then all the heads in the room nod and say, “You know, I think you’re onto something.”
The fact that the announcement of AZ’s removal from the medical landscape was driven by politics and ineptitude rather than science bugged me so much that I wrote my first ever comment on The Globe and Mail’s website (which counts as some sort of milestone in my life). It said: What? Vaccines are now suddenly magically à la carte? This whole thing is starting to feel like it’s being run by Grade 11 students doing a science project.
Comments sections being what they are I received several patronizing replies from readers saying that vaccines are safe and effective and that there’s nothing to worry about. This little smugfest failed to address the actual issue, that of politicians making up pretend science to cover their butts. Immunology is not a smorgasbord. How dare you make us subsidize your cluelessness with our bodies. Millions of people were promised a free trip to New Zealand and got shipped to AstraZenecaland instead. Will mixing an mRNA vaccine with AZ backfire in some hideous way? Maybe. Maybe not. Will I go with Pfizer? As any Gen Xer knows, there’s not much other choice. Ugh. Will an AZ plus an mRNA work on a vaccine passport? No one has said. On we go.
The only remaining moral thing the government can do is scour the planet looking for two million doses to keep their promise to two million Canadians. AZ is out there somewhere – God knows people don’t want it – and we’re long past shame here, so grovel. Just don’t deliver your pseudoscientific pep talk as if you’ve come up with a cure.
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