Vaccine hesitancy is a normal reaction when we’re used to glacial responses to threats

The issue: Public health emergency
We say: Exists beyond virus

Vaccination against Covid-19 started in Nunavut on Jan. 6, with 70-year-old Josephee Adams, a resident at the Iqaluit Elders’ Centre, stepping up to be the first person in the territory to receive the Moderna vaccine.

Many people across the territory and country are feeling hesitant when it comes to accepting the vaccines as safe, citing concerns with how quickly the therapy was developed and is being released, or due to a lack of knowledge surrounding long-term effects.

These are reasonable concerns, but messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have been in development for more than 20 years. Rather than using weakened or inactivated virus it teaches our cells how to make a protein – or even just a piece of a protein – that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. That immune response is what protects us from the actual virus.

Rapid research development was possible because of global cooperation and a universal desire for people to be protected from this disease.

Not everything completed on a tight schedule is dangerous or incomplete. Take for instance Arviligruaq Ilinniarvik, Kugaaruk’s new school, which won the engineering firm behind its design two awards for working “quickly and creatively to meet the challenges of designing and building a school in a remote location under a tight deadline,” according to a Government of Nunavut news release. The school was completed in two years, when it would normally take three to four years.

A sense of urgency can be inspiring when a situation needs addressing. Imagine if we could mobilize resources for funding and infrastructure gaps in a similar enhanced timeframe, particularly more housing.

In October, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer (CPHO), published From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to Covid-19, the office’s report on the state of public health in Canada in 2020.

In it, Dr. Tam states: “This pandemic has demonstrated that inequities in our society place some populations and, ultimately, all Canadians at risk. No one is protected from the risk of Covid-19 until everyone is protected.”

She isn’t talking about vaccination protocol, though preventative medicine is often the best sort, she’s talking about something many Nunavummiut are intimately familiar with, social inequality.

The public health emergency in Nunavut has been extended 22 times since the beginning of the pandemic in March, and there’s no real end in sight. Even when viral spread in the southern provinces is finally under control and our risk of importing the disease is lowered, far too many Nunavummiut are still living in despicable conditions that hasten the spread of this virus and others.

The housing crisis is a public health emergency.

Food insecurity is a public health emergency.

The lack of resources for mental health and addictions treatment is a public health emergency.

When every other massive threat to Nunavut’s public health is met with a cavalier attitude by the federal government, it’s understandable that people might be reluctant to take aid so quickly proffered.

But as Nunavut’s own CPHO says, “This is a major milestone along Nunavut’s Path and one we are excited about. Immunization is voluntary but I do encourage as many eligible Nunavummiut as possible to take the vaccine. It is currently the best protection Nunavummiut can have against Covid-19.”

Be sure to get your shot.

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