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Commentary: Our collective backbone is washed away

Speed is essential if we’re ever to return life to some normality
opinion

If Edward Smith were alive today he’d be appalled at the gutless scramble to elbow aside the old and frail and thereby grab a quicker COVID vaccination. 

It was Smith, captain of the Titanic, who agreed women and children go first into lifeboats as that stricken vessel sank. He’d go down with his ship, whilst three-quarters of all women and half the kids aboard survived. Just one in five men would live, only to be branded cowards in later life. 

Oh boy, have those days long gone. Now it’s every Tom, Dick and Harriet for themselves and heaven help anyone who gets in their self-righteous path to safety.

It seems every group wants to jump to the front of our current vaccine queue: bus drivers, meat packers, prison guards, a host of other government workers and, naturally enough, those blessed and revered teachers.

Of course, these various groups never spell out who should be pushed aside so they can get their jabs quicker – there remains a modicum of self-respect it seems, even if only to prevent these various cohorts publicly demanding Alberta’s grannies and grandpas be frog-marched to the back of any COVID line.

Still, the craven cries of ‘jab us first’ build, thanks in part to the mess the feds have made in getting vaccines shipped to this country in a speedy manner. Yes, it now appears even more’s at stake in grabbing a spot closer to the front of an increasingly nervous queue.

But, so far at least, the Alberta government is showing rare backbone in sticking with its initial rollout schedule, one in which priority is given to those most at risk. 

Therefore it makes eminent sense to prioritize this vaccination rollout based on age. OK, putting those who deal, face to face, with the elderly are also granted vaccination priority, but that too is sensible, given the threat such health and care home workers pose to those in their charge if they initially are infected.

Speed is essential if we’re ever to return life to some normality. So, being expected to judge who has a pre-existing condition deemed serious enough to qualify for a jump to the COVID-fighting queue-front would be an onerous and time-sucking burden to place upon health care professionals already feeling the year-long pandemic strain.

Nope, keep doing it by age. Because, among all the varied, ever-changing measures, the endless statistics, the scary pie-in-some-sky modelling, and the needlessly confusing medical jargon, one fact has remained constant throughout this difficult last 12 months, since this virus first appeared in Alberta. 

It is the average age of victims. That particular number has stayed close to rock solid; today measured at 81 years of age, which, incidentally, is the current average lifespan of all Albertans, regardless of contracting COVID-19. 

We’re rarely reminded of this, probably because if much were made of such a pertinent fact then those under the age of 50 – for example - might decide the risk to their own life isn’t worth the strife arising from the various strictures imposed to avoid the virus.

But the downside to this universal ‘keep ‘em all scared, regardless’ policy is that most folk can’t simply hit some emotional switch when subsequently told to wait calmly until it’s their turn for vaccination.

Instead, after absorbing all those lurid COVID warnings, they clamour to push to the front, their desperate need deemed greater than any neighbour’s.  

Twelve months of relentless, fearful lecturing has done its trick. Our collective backbone is washed away: like those gallant men who stepped aside a long, long time ago to let women and children go first.

Chris Nelson is a syndicated columnist.