Tag Archives: vaccines

On the Edge of a moral catastrophe: Hoarding Vaccines is not the same as  hoarding toilet paper


It is often said that a war brings out the best of people and the worst of people. I think a pandemic works the same way. There have been some genuine heroes. I remember hearing about this nurse who went around the US to help out hospitals in the worst possible circumstances when they were on the verge of being overwhelmed and would not have survived without heroic people like her. She was not able to get health insurance anymore because the insurance companies were smart. They knew she was taking crazy chances by going to hospitals swamped with Covid-19. And then she had to deal with people who did not believe the disease was real, even as they were dying. If the nurses had good sense—like the insurance companies—they would have said sorry I can’t help you. But they went any way.


Then there were the people like me from rich countries like Canada complaining that our  government was not getting the vaccines out fast enough.  Every government was criticized. Usually, the governments were all doing the best they could in novel circumstances without a proper playbook.

Yet, there were also people who cheated. Like the rich people who flew to the Yukon to pose as local people who were getting the vaccine faster than the people down south because indigenous people were suffering disproportionately.

Yet we are all in the west benefiting from dubious morality.  This is what The Guardian reported when the global deaths from Covid-19 exceeded 2 million:

“Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization has said the world is on the edge of a “catastrophic moral failure” in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines with just 25 doses administered across all poor countries compared with 39 million in wealthier ones.”


Hoarding vaccines is not the same as  hoarding toilet paper.

Should Indigenous People trust White-man’s Medicine?


Some people wonder why Indigenous people are suspicious of vaccines. The shouldn’t be.

Indigenous people in Canada, like African American people in the United States, have many reasons to be suspicious of statements made by Canadian Health authorities about what is good for indigenous people. Indigenous people have been lied to and exploited by Canadian health officials too many times to be sanguine about the advice they get from them. They have good reason for saying those health authorities do not have their best interests in mind.


At a time when all of Canada needs Indigenous people to trust the Canadian health authorities so that we can together achieve herd immunity and prevent the virus from mutating any more than it has, that would benefit everyone in Canada,  indigenous people are demonstrating hesitancy to take the vaccines that are available. The longer the disease is in Canada without being checked the more likely it is that the virus will mutate and perhaps become more harmful and overcome our defences including vaccines.

Yet as Elisa Levi an MD Candidate at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, member of Chippewas of Nawash, and Yellowhead Institute Research Fellow said about indigenous people,

“But it is equally important that they are given all the information necessary to make an informed decision and that their concerns are respected. Some members of Indigenous communities have legitimate concerns around medical treatments, rooted in historical trauma.”


We need to get Indigenous communities on side. Because of their high degree of socio-economic marginalization they suffer disproportionate risks of health problems and if they go untreated we all suffer. We need them on side not just to help them, but to help us too! As Levi said, “With a vaccine that is 95 per cent effective, it has been projected that 70 percent uptake is needed for community immunity.”

 However, to get them on side, we must take into consideration the historical trauma they have suffered because it has led to understandable vaccine hesitancy. As Levi put it,

Indigenous people have good reason to distrust government.” There are many reasons for distrust, but here is an important one: “in the 1940s, government scientists performed nutrition experiments on Indigenous people without consent in some of these hospitals, as they did with children in residential schools.”


The history of Canada’s residential schools is horrific. I intend to blog about this more fully, but for now, I think now this issue relates the pandemic and our historic treatment of indigenous children.

As Leslie Young reported in Global News,

“Before 1940, tuberculosis was a leading cause of death in residential schools – even more than in the general population, the report found. In 1880, the tuberculosis death rate in Montreal and Toronto peaked at 200 out of every 100,000 people, according to the report.

The death rate from tuberculosis at residential schools meanwhile was upwards of 4,000 out of every 100,000 people, according to one contemporary estimate at the turn of the century.”


In other words, at its peak the death rate from tuberculosis was 20 times higher in residential schools than in Montreal and Toronto!

 Of course the indigenous children were subjected to even more deception than that. Experiments were conducted on them just as American scientists subjected African American children. It was all part a pattern of white supremacy. Non-white children just did not count. They weren’t important. They weren’t even human. As Young reported,

“Students at various residential schools were also used as involuntary guinea pigs in a variety of experiments, notably a number of studies on nutrition.

Students were given more or less milk, some were given vitamin C tablets (and others were not), some were given vitamin-enriched flour, and others were not. The intent was to determine whether these dietary interventions cut the incidence of various diseases – but the control group students were never given the chance to share in any benefits, and in some cases, children were denied access to dental care or iron supplements.


They were also used as research subjects without their or their parents’ consent.

All of this was camouflaged as science. But it was pure racism. To the white authorities the children were just objects. Dehumanized objects that they could do with as they chose.

We must remember, that these children were often taken away from their parents without their parents consent, to places where many were subjected to horrific emotional, physical and sexual abuse and then they were not protected from tuberculosis. And we did that all of that, purportedly, for their own good. At least that is what non-indigenous Canadians claimed. It was done because the officials said the parents of the indigenous children did not know how to take care of their children. They were incompetent parents, the adults said.

How can we expect indigenous people ever to trust the rest of us again? This demonstrates how historic injustice can come back to haunt the perpetrators and their successors. Now when non-indigenous Canadians  need the  cooperation of indigenous people, the lack of trust is seriously harmful to everyone.


The Common Good in a time of pandemic


In talking about vaccines, there is another significant and extremely interesting issue. I think we in Canada would acknowledge, unlike perhaps our neighbours to the south, that if you live in a society where only people of wealth and privilege have access to the vaccines that is unjust. I think the Americans have come to realize this too.  We and they  really are in this together, and that if everyone, or most people at least, don’t get vaccinated, we  will never achieve herd immunity. I think as a result Americans too have decided to make vaccines freely available to everyone. I guess they would call it “socialism, at least  for vaccines.”

In Canada this was never an issue, and we early on made the decision that the cost of the vaccines will be born collectively. I think we have made, through our elected political leaders, the right decision. Everyone who wants the vaccine should be able to have it at public expense.  Vaccines are a public good. In some countries that is not so clear. Then, I would submit, the case for justifying restrictions only on those who did not “voluntarily” take the vaccinations would be an uneasy one. It would be harder to justify the restrictions in such a society. Thankfully, that is not an issue in Canada. That shows the advantage of doing some things for the common good.

Most of us have come to appreciate that, except for some religious groups like the Church of God Restoration. They don’t appear to believe in the common good. They want to exercise their religious rights whether that is good for everyone or not.

As I said earlier, the government must justify its restrictions and the onus of proving that the restrictions are in fact justified is on the government. If the government is not able to prove the restrictions are justified on the basis I have shown, those restrictions cannot survive a challenge. Some people have argued that because it is estimated that it will take between 6-8 months to vaccinate everyone it is not a good idea to usher in a phased opening up of restrictions for those who have got the vaccine, because this will erode public trust and confidence in the system. People will feel resentful at what they believe is inequity. As a result, social cohesion is being jeopardized by such an approach. Social solidarity is a very valuable common good. That has been amplified demonstrated over and over again during this pandemic. We need social cohesion and trust. Without that we cannot have good government or good social and health policy. We must be careful not to jeopardize this important social good.

This is an argument worth considering. My own view is that this is a risk worth taking.  I recognize that social solidarity is common good that must be included in our weighing and balancing of those goods. I think those of us who are not at the head of the line for vaccines have to learn to suck it up for the common good. Those of us who do that must not be consumed by resentment. For the greater good, we have to learn to accept that. Then, if we do that successfully, we will have achieved greater social solidarity because those who got the advantages will be forced to acknowledge what those who got their benefits later agreed to allow others to go first.

Added to that, we must also consider that opening up the economy on a phased in basis, rather than waiting until everyone is safe, will bring about substantial economic benefits to which we will all have access. Then this would make economic and social sense. That would also be a common good.  The common good is very important.

I hope I am not being a Pollyanna a here. I would like to know what others think.