Just a Shot Away
I always said the distribution of the COVID 19 vaccine would be a bigger challenge than its development. As of this writing, 2.8 billion vaccines have been administered around the world, representing some 22% of the global population (Our World in Data, 2021). Some 33 million injections have happened in my home country of Canada. While here, in the province of Alberta, where Premiere Jason Kenney declared the province would “Open for Summer” if we reached the threshold of 70% vaccinated, has got his wish (Our World in Data, 2021) (Government of Alberta, 2021). Lord help us, but that’s another story.
Last week I went and received my second Pfizer COVID 19 vaccination in Calgary’s Telus Convention Centre, and was amazed at the coordination of the effort, beginning with the City of Calgary directional signage which had been placed on all downtown streets leading to the Centre. Once in the downtown building’s parkade it was easy to find cues for everything from parking validation to the actual inoculation centre, as there were staff members at every possible turn. But it was there in that cue, resembling a familiar, albeit unwanted, sight one might see when arriving late at airport security to make a flight, that I began to feel a sense of global community unlike anything I had felt since the onset of the virus in early 2020, put us all on the same track.
There, in the cavernous convention hall ballroom I was mixed (socially distanced for the most part) with many people younger and older, men, women, transgender, all races, all languages, basically representation across all spectrums of any demographic category, had some representation that stuffy June afternoon in Calgary. All of us brought together from all walks of life, from all corners of a large global city, together for a cause. It began to feel like the beginning of the end of an event which, ironically, had sent us all scurrying into our homes, behind lock and key, in a frenzied panic to protect ourselves from one another more than one year prior.
It was also there that the enormity of the project hit more clearly than ever before. I thanked literally everybody involved, from the uniformed security guard waving me into the parking lot, to the dozen or so staffers directing me through the complex building’s escalators, stairs, hallways and corridors. And I imagined hundreds of similar scenes playing themselves out right then, at that very moment, in different parts of the world. And again, I felt connected, but this time with a sense of hope, rather than doom.
How did we get here? Through the seemingly endless months of violent, stormy turbulence, to a point of clearing skies and a sense that calm might soon be within our grasp? I will not undertake to get into the minutia on this, as that is a deeper dive beyond my paygrade, and likely beyond enjoyable story telling. Rather than discussing how the world did it, I think it’s easier for me to reflect upon what we did, leaving a little room for what we still need to do.
In her fantastic article, “A Guide to Global COVID 19 Vaccine Efforts”, Claire Felter deftly uses interactive charts and maps to give readers a glimpse into the weblike passage of the vaccine, not dissimilar to the spread of the virus 18 months ago. Among the reader-friendly assets dropped into her article is an infographic, summarized below, which I think we, as a global village must take pause, and celebrate together. You may not have been in a lab developing these vaccines, nor in a cockpit of a plane transporting them around the world, but in some small way you were indirectly financing them, promoting them, and most importantly (my small political stand here) consuming them, thereby driving helping to exterminate this microscopic menace once and for all. One of the most overused words one year ago was “unprecedented”, as in, “the death and destruction is unprecedented!” Well, I move that we celebrate some of the unprecedented positives connected with this miraculous vaccine development and distribution. Here’s that infographic.
Total Time to Develop
adopted from (Felter, 2021)
Ms. Felter’s source for the above is Johns Hopkins University, so I think it seems trustworthy enough. What it de-emphasizes is the distribution scale. You might be looking at that “Distribution” entry at the bottom, and say, “Wait a minute. We’re still getting this thing distributed six months after the vaccination program began.” “One month” is a rather conspicuous and misleading measurement, which I assume references the time taken to first get to the public after manufacturing. Clearly, if distribution is defined as getting first, never mind second doses into every eligible human’s arm, then we still have a long way to go. How long?
According to Bloomberg, the current global pace for vaccinations is 41 million per day, at which rate, it would take another year for the much debated and somewhat misunderstood “herd immunity” to be achieved. (Randall, 2021) You may also furrow your brow here, again challenging the data provided. I’m with you. With this all happening much quicker than anyone thought, why do we still need another year to snuff it out?
This is where one of the failures amidst an otherwise colossal success of vaccine distribution is fully exposed. Vaccination inequality is very real, and continues to plague the world’s poorest, and in some cases, most populous countries. A month ago, while developed countries were surging past 30% and 50% vaccination rates, only 2% of eligible African citizens had received a first dose. (Beaumont, 2021) The cause of this, of course is a combination of the wealthiest countries possessing both the manufacturing capabilities and buying power, along with the poorly designed procurement infrastructure among impoverished nations.
The other drag on vaccinating our way toward immunity is the reluctance by a significant percentage of the population to even receive it, despite its availability. Whether this is the vocal, and in some cases violent-leaning faction of “anti-vaxxers”, with their claims of freedom violations, or the less boisterous, but still unwilling contingent who do not trust the vaccine to be totally safe. Either way, it is a concerning barrier to herd immunity. NPR reports the number to be 25% of Americans will elect to not get the vaccine. ( (Brumfiel, 2021)
So, there is no denying that we are still encountering headwinds to say the least. However, the point of this post is neither to lament the lagging roll out, nor to rage against rebels. The point is to stop and celebrate the human spirit. Our ingenuity and innovation. Our resourcefulness and organization. Our resilience and patience. Our borderless, boundless, beautifully global, C-O-L-L-A-B-O-R-A-T-I-O-N!
I recall listening to a radio talk show host in March 2020, almost weeping openly on-air. I can’t recall who it was, but his dire disposition was not induced by the rapidly spreading virus, which would go on to kill millions over the coming months. It was his lack of faith in humanity. “I don’t know if we have the patience to wait this out”, he said. I pondered that for a long time, that wintry morning in Calgary, watching the snow blow across the windshield of my truck, waiting impatiently just for a red light to turn green.
I took a deep breath – like everyone else around the world way back then in those chaotic, unpredictable early days of the unknown. We didn’t know where we were headed nor what things were going to look like when we got there. And many of us did not know if we even would get there. And while the road has been bumpy, marked by one setback, it seems, for each step forward, we are almost there. We, as in - all of us, did it.
You know I can’t complete a post without connecting my thoughts to one or more of the 8 pillar competencies in my book, “The Daily Undoing: Being Better at Being Human”. What I’ve attempted to do here is to make a case for the competency of “collaboration”. Often defined as the “playing well with others” competency, I chose to make a slight revision in my book, calling it the “DO well with others competency”. This past year has proven that it is not enough to merely be on the field, although that matters too. We must be active participants as well, even if our part is small, it still matters.
So, for every time you stood six feet apart from someone else, wore a mask, washed your hands just a few seconds longer, stayed indoors, stayed out of public spaces, provided anything for others who could not get out (including companionship), supported a local business, attempted to think critically and inform others responsibly, signed up for, and received one or more vaccinations…For any of these and many, many more, YOU have been a part of the greatest global collaboration in world history, and hopefully one that won’t be pushed off of that perch for a long time. However, if the “next” time happens pre-maturely, hopefully that unknown broadcaster, and anyone else who doubted humanity’s grit and creativity, will be able to view the future with justified optimism.