Cuthand: Vaccine hesitancy and slow government action hurt us all

Anti-vaxxers decry any talk of vaccine passports. If you kennel a dog you have to show proof of vaccination. What makes people so special?

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Doug Cuthand  •  Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Leader-Post and StarPhoenix columnist Doug Cuthand.
Leader-Post and StarPhoenix columnist Doug Cuthand. Photo by Liam Richards /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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COVID-19 cases are spiking in Saskatchewan with records being broken almost daily. Together with Alberta, we were the two outliers in Canada. Led by right-wing governments with a strong libertarian bent, we were left on our own to live with the pandemic.

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The virus is spreading across Indian country. According to Indigenous Services Canada, as of Sept. 15, we had 10,099 cases in Saskatchewan since the pandemic began. That number includes only cases on reserves and does not include First Nations people living off the reserves.

Meanwhile, First Nations are taking charge and closing schools, and more reserves are going back into lockdown. This fourth wave has been called a pandemic of the unvaccinated and many of our youth, along with a stubborn minority, remain unvaccinated.

The high number of infections relates directly to lifestyle. This pandemic is affecting groups differently and should also be referred to as a pandemic of the poor. Many of our people live in crowded, substandard conditions; on-reserve housing is crowded and sanitation such as drinking water is poor. In the cities, our people exist in much the same crowded conditions, subject to the whims and exploitation of slum landlords.

Despite the seriousness of the pandemic and the obvious common-sense approaches, we continue to have to put up with the senseless whining of the anti-vaxxers as they continue to protest in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

These anti-vaxxers are an outrage and gullible victims of fraudulent thinking. They protest at hospitals when we need to respect the health workers and the patients. They decry any talk of vaccine passports. But if you place your dog in a kennel, you have to show proof of vaccination. What makes people so special?

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These protesters want freedom, but a version of freedom without responsibility. It’s irresponsible that selfish people deny others their access to health and well-being. We are all responsible for each other and the common good trumps personal freedoms.

Politics is changing across Canada and the right-wing fringe groups are becoming more vocal. Parties such as the People’s Party of Canada, the Maverick Party and the Buffalo Party in Saskatchewan are mute when it comes to criticizing the anti-maskers or anyone who protests policies that appear to infringe on individual rights. But in a time of a pandemic, it is hard to justify individual rights when the health system is in danger of collapse.

These new right wing political parties are a far cry from the Progressive Conservatives of John Diefenbaker, Robert Stanfield and Joe Clarke. Once the radical fringe, they now occupy the centre of attention. They are libertarian, mean spirited, authoritarian and harbour racist undertones.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe wasted too much time trying to appease their right flank instead of doing the right thing and fighting the pandemic with masks, vaccine passports and other sensible approaches. Now they are both grudgingly on side, but according to medical experts, it will take at least two weeks for the changes to be felt.

This indecisive action on the part of both governments has led to a serious breakdown in public policy that has cost lives and created victims, some of whom will suffer long-term effects. These politicians ignored the experts and the science in the hope that if they ignored COVID-19 it would go away.

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I think both Kenney and Moe have proven the adage that a politician looks to the next election while a statesman looks to the next generation. Kenney at least made an attempt to apologize, but Moe was mute and that speaks volumes.

When I was growing up, the health nurse made regular visits to our reserve school. We were all vaccinated for polio, smallpox, tuberculosis and so on. The result was that the infant and child mortality rates dropped, and the First Nations population increased. In 1970, there were about 36,000 First Nations people registered to First Nations in Saskatchewan. Now that number is approaching 150,000. This spectacular increase is largely due to vaccinations.

Vaccinations were a fact of life in the 1950s but today they are the topic of fear and derision. How times have changed.

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