Scapegoating will solve nothing
Throughout human history, societies have singled out minority groups to blame for all their problems and punish ritually to try to save the community from plague or famine. This is called scapegoating, and right now in Canada the sacrificial goats are people who are unvaccinated.
The anger is palpable, from the National Post headline “Non-vaxxers must be deterred from harming others” to the recently viral video clip of Prime Minister Trudeau on a Quebec talk show (aired last September), where he says people opposed to COVID vaccines “are very often misogynistic and racist” and then asks, “Do we tolerate these people?”
Meanwhile, political commentators and news coverage continue to spread the message that unvaccinated people are the cause of COVID contagion, and that the vaccinated must be protected from the polluted unvaccinated. They urge that “these people” have their freedoms restricted and pay penalties as suggested in Québec. They suggest that these measures will “protect all of us” and get our lives back to normal.
These arguments are based on false premises and a false hope of how to bring back “normal”. Even if honest people disagree on the facts, the blame game is leading us down a well-trodden path that divides societies and historically ended in violence.
Are the non-vaxxed really spreading COVID more than others? Well, actually no. Research has shown for many months that vaccinated and unvaccinated people with COVID infections carry and spread the same high levels of virus. A large British study of spread within households found vaccinated cases were slightly more likely to infect a close contact than unvaccinated ones (25% vs 23%).
Even more startling is that with the omicron variant, infection rates are markedly higher in the fully vaccinated than in the unvaccinated. Yes, you read that right. Ontario’s infection rates in mid-January reached a peak of 95 cases per 100,000 people with 2+doses, and 67 cases per 100,000 people with no vaccine doses. The spread has been even higher since Christmas.
Prime Minister Trudeau said recently that Canadians are angry at the unvaccinated who take up hospital beds. Again, the facts disagree. Almost three-quarters of the hospitalized are vaccinated in Ontario right now.
Unvaccinated Canadians are very diverse. They include people from all walks of life. Many doctors and nurses are unvaccinated. The refusal of 8,000 healthcare workers in Quebec to get vaccinated last fall caused the province to back down on its planned mandate.
Reasons for choosing to remain unvaccinated include previous vaccine injuries. In some people, the jolt to the immune system delivered by vaccines wakes up an immune attack on the self. The result can be anything from paralysis to heart inflammation, blood clots or autoimmune diseases.
Over 7,500 serious reactions (and counting) to COVID vaccines have been officially reported in Canada. Three-quarters are in women, who are disproportionately harmed. “Serious” is defined by the Public Health Agency of Canada, who keeps these statistics, as life-threatening or resulting in death, hospitalization, persistent or significant disability, or birth defect.
Medical exemptions to vaccination are nonexistent in Canada. The federal guidelines effectively exclude all exemptions, even for people who had a potentially fatal brain clot following a COVID vaccine. They must still “complete the series.” Doctors who sign exemptions have been threatened with revocation of their license to practice medicine.
We are on a slippery slope. “When we highlight differences between groups of people to increase suspicion of them, to insult them or to exclude them, we are going down a path known as ‘othering’,” the Canadian Museum for Human Rights reminds us.
Within every society that gangs up on an out-group, there are some people who relish demeaning and hurting them. Today, they can easily be found on social media platforms and even on the front page of the Toronto Star (for which the paper apologized).
But a larger and more important group are the bystanders. In the COVID context, they laugh at the unvaccinated. They consider them kooks. They support them being fired from their workplaces. They uninvite them from groups. They do so even when work and social activities are virtual and cannot give rise to any viral spread.
They applaud more restrictions on the unvaccinated, including those with disabilities, and consider themselves models of virtue. They don’t worry about the civic rights of the unvaccinated because – well, I guess because they consider them non-citizens.
It’s time that Canadians recognized this classic case of scapegoating and began calling out those who engage in hate speech. We need fewer bystanders, fewer bullies and more leaders who will unify instead of dividing us. Vaccinated and unvaccinated, we really are all in this together, and we will only find our way out together.