Committee muddies waters of COVID-19 vaccination

The messaging in the last day by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is a case study in how to fumble a football with a clear field to the end zone and a cheering crowd.

You know you’ve messed up when the prime minister has to mop up.

NACI today appears to be a more apt acronym for New And Confusing Information, Never A Clear Indication, Needlessly Alienating Canadians Intentionally, or Next All Coronavirus Intensifies.

Its earlier advice – choose the first available COVID vaccine, don’t think twice – has morphed into something akin to an emergent variant. At the very worst time, it threatens the momentum that the heavily increased vaccine supply can produce in national health and safety.

For reasons that escape anyone reasonable, it has opted to overspeak upon the hierarchy of vaccines – Pfizer and Moderna ahead of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson – at exactly the wrong hour.

It has told Canadians that they should now choose wisely. Only, wisely is hard to define when NACI has a knack for making it harder.

If you live in a COVID hotspot, wisely is whatever is at hand. That seems self-evident.

But then it gets murky.

If you think you’re low-risk, if you can work at home, wisely seems to mean you should hold out for what NACI says are the preferred Pfizer/Moderna mRNA-based vaccines that aren’t linked like the others, even in super-ultra-low levels, to blood clots.

Forget that countless Canadians – I’m among them – consider themselves low-risk and can work from home but went for what was first available weeks ago. We were told to do so by our political leadership. Indeed, the political leadership took its own advice, as countless photographs and testimonials attest.

Today, I’m wisely living with a touch of regret. NACI’s musings have me knackered.

At precisely the week that voluminous shipments are so mighty that they are going to challenge Canada’s organizational capacity to inject them into arms, the advisory committee is telling some arms it’s fine to keep the sleeves unrolled.

Just when we are at last poised to overwhelm the virus, NACI has poisoned the campaign to do so. This is no way to flatten the curve; this is a way to flatten the campaign to flatten the curve.

The New York Times reported Monday that America is unlikely to reach herd immunity with the coronavirus. A large enough number doubt the safety or the utility of the vaccines to prevent the world’s richest nation, which suffered a disproportionate toll due to its official downplaying of the world’s cruelest virus, to capitalize on the world’s most advantageous position to rebound.

This is a matter we will have to consider as we contemplate when and how – not if – our borders reopen. But that’s on them and that’s a decision for us for another month. We need not follow their hesitancy.

On Tuesday, Justin Trudeau had to venture from the Official Cottage (the eastern word for Cabin) to clarify the Official Message. “Get your shot as soon as it’s your turn,” he said.

Trudeau didn’t exactly toss NACI under the bus, but he was clear it wasn’t the most welcome passenger on today’s commute. He went on about how it’s important to live in a country where we have a broad range of medical experts to recommend how we can be safe. For the record: repeated listening to his statement did not elicit any special NACI commendation.

Back to the science for a moment. Blood clots seemingly arising from non-mRNA-based vaccines are infinitesimal risks – somewhere around .001%, or the Canucks’ chances of a Stanley Cup in 2021. Why this would prompt a message of vaccine preference – especially at this time – is likely the stuff of a serious post-mortem today in Ottawa. If we could only roll back the clock about 48 hours.

The vague info remains, though. NACI is saying on the one hand that the J & J jab is safe for anyone over 30. But it is advising that it’s only wise to take it “if the benefits outweigh the risk for the individual,” a flabby-language catch-all that feels it was created by cautionary insurers. It’s no way to credibly guide a country, particularly an anxious one emerging exhausted from its third wave. We don’t need mushy wordsmithery.

This is the time for slow, simple orderly ordering. If our politicians have excellent education in anything, it’s in learning how to adopt a talking point and repeat it until they and we are nauseous. This is the time for them to make us sick to make us better.

As for NACI, please, Never Again Confound Individuals.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.