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A woman adjusts her mask while she waits in line as the city's public health unit holds a walk-in clinic testing for COVID-19 in Montreal, March 23, 2020.Christinne Muschi/Reuters

By now, you’ve stored away your winter coat and lined boots. The wool tuques are hidden in a drawer. The gloves are out of sight, at the back of the top shelf in the hall closet. Snow tires? Long gone.

You won’t be needing any of those things any more. Or rather, you don’t need them now – but you will want them again, in a few months. Winter is over, but not forever. This goodbye is an au revoir. We’ll see it again.

Just like the flu, the common cold and the Maple Leafs’ quest for a Stanley Cup, all will be back for another season. So will COVID-19.

When vaccines against this novel coronavirus were first being developed, the hope was that they would work like the vaccine against, say, polio: Get a jab and you’re set for life. Once enough people got the jab, we’d have eradicated the disease. But that’s not how things turned out with COVID-19. The vaccines are more like those against seasonal flu: highly effective, but time limited. For millions of Canadians, a flu shot is an annual thing. It’s been that way for decades. And it looks like that’s also going to be the story with COVID-19 vaccination.

Problem: Neither Canadians nor their governments appear to have entirely got their heads around that.

We all get that winter is eventually coming back, which is why your municipality did not auction off its snowplows and its road salters last month. Nobody acts like the last snowstorm of 2022 was the last snowstorm ever.

But that’s sort of where the country is at on COVID-19.

Canada lives with winter by equipping ourselves to overcome it, individually and collectively. We live through it by taking the actions necessary to make it livable.

What will be necessary to overcome future waves of COVID-19? Two things.

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First, all levels of government have to prepare for the likelihood that a very large and very fast booster campaign will be needed in the fall, if not sooner. The COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against severe outcomes (though far less protection against simple infection) – so long as someone’s vaccination is up to date.

As was learned during the Omicron wave, the link between infection and severe illness can be greatly diminished by vaccination up front, and regular boosters later. Two shots received a year ago isn’t enough, especially for people aged 50 and older.

Preparing for a fall wave means having the infrastructure to quickly give millions of shots – via everything from last year’s long-dismantled mass vaccine clinics to pharmacies and family doctors. That’s the first need – lots of capacity to deliver boosters. Right now, much of that infrastructure has been dismantled.

The second need is for Canadians, especially seniors and the middle-aged, to understand the benefits that will come from getting regularly boosted.

Back in 2021, Canadians were among the world’s most enthusiastic vaccine hunters. More than 90 per cent of Canadian adults have had at least two shots of vaccine. That’s 13 percentage points higher than the United States.

It’s part of the reason Canada’s COVID-19 outcomes have been so much better. Canada’s official tally of dead from the virus is one-third the U.S. level, and the real gap with our neighbours is likely wider.

A recent World Health Organization study found that, in 2020 and 2021, the U.S. had 15 per cent more deaths than normal, suggesting a significant undercount of COVID mortality. The Canadian figure was just 4 per cent. Among 19 developed countries, only Japan, Australia and South Korea did better.

However, while Canada was a superstar of first and second shots, the country has been mediocre on boosters. Less than 59 per cent of Canadian adults have had at least one booster shot. Nearly 90 per cent of Canadians 70 years of age and over had had at least one booster, which is good, but nearly 40 per cent of people in their 50s have had zero, and the same goes for nearly half of people in their 40s.

If we want to avoid the overwhelmed hospitals and delayed surgeries of the past few waves, we’ve got to accept that COVID-19 is likely to be a recurring visitor that we must be prepared to meet and minimize, year after year. Like winter, it’s a reality that we can live with. But pretending it isn’t coming back won’t make it so.

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