Friday, March 1, 2024

Goodbye To The Vaccine Mandates: When This Is All Over, What Will We Remember?

Yet another strange milestone in our pandemic years hit this week, with general vaccine mandates slowly disappearing. As we slowly move towards the idea of a post-pandemic world, while simultaneously being in our biggest peak, what will we remember from this time?

Opinion piece

In a strange bit of synchronicity, on his latest phone call with his family back in Iran, my husband found out that their government was also getting rid of their general population vaccine mandates today, April 4. That’s the same D-Day as Aotearoa and I marvelled that it seems like some global agreement has been made that it’s time to announce ‘the pandemic is over,’ even though (*whispers*) it’s not at all true.

I have read approximately 300 hot takes on last week’s Oscar Slap and one reason I think that particular moment stuck in everyone’s claw so much as it was yet another example of ‘what we saw vs what we were told we saw’. A slap happened live on stage, and yet it wasn’t referred to at all again for the next hour, and everyone just pretended nothing had happened, which was considerably weirder than the slap itself. It’s symbolic of what our lives have become: what we see versus what we’re told.

A protest happens and we are told, over and over again, that it’s peaceful – democracy at work – despite the Nazi overtones and the fact that it ended exactly as we thought it would: badly. Our country has an incredibly high vaccination rate and yet the news tells us we’re a divided, miserable people. Our public figures are constantly being bombarded with death threats and then told there’s nothing happening, they’re just being dramatic.

Our vaccine mandates, designed to keep us safe in a pandemic, are ending today – the week after we have our country’s highest death toll.

Is it any wonder we all have whiplash?

I will be happy to forget the elbow taps of 2020

In a recent interview with The Resilience Project leader Hugh Van Cuylenburg (which will be on Capsule later this month), I asked Hugh what life is like in Melbourne after the peak. He replied that basically no-one talks about Covid, even though the numbers are still high – that there’s a collective feeling of we’re done with this, not because it’s over, but because we simply don’t the energy to care anymore.

At Capsule, we tried to keep our vaccine coverage as mild as possible. We were all pro vaccine but we all had a rogue cousin or two that wasn’t. I was very aware that this was a government I trusted and that I have only had good experiences in the health system – but if either of those things were different, I might feel very differently about the vaccine.

We wanted to create a non-judgemental space to learn about the vaccine and the vaccine mandates with zero shame attached to it – because we are all frightened of this pandemic and that fear comes out in different ways. And it worked – we had many emails from people telling us that our gentle stories had done the trick with people who were scared of the vaccines. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of. But the reality is, any time we wrote about the vaccine, we had to dodge many angry people telling us that we were liars, crooks and tools of the government. That’s not something I’m going to forget in a hurry.

Once this is all over, I hope we remember the ‘kia kaha’ wrap-around that majority of the country did, over and over again, for every lockdown. The neighbours that looked out for each other. Yes, even the Zoom drinks and quizzes we all had the energy for (albeit briefly). How good it felt to see each other when we could. How we all had the space to ask each other ‘No, how are you today, really?’ How we all cared for each other in what has been an incredibly overwhelming and difficult few years – and that the after-effects of this period will continue to shape us for a long time. We are still very much in the cave of the pandemic, but the light outside might be getting a bit brighter.

However, I also hope we remember the people that worked against this community spirit as well. The brands that used words like ‘segregation’ in describing vaccine mandates, with little awareness of what that word actually means. The platforms that spread misinformation, designed to scare people. The people that wanted our journalists and our leaders executed. The news media that printed op-eds from those favourably comparing the Taliban to our government, or talking about saving the economy over lives. The privileged that, time and time again, treated the pandemic as somebody else’s problem.

Hundreds of New Zealand families have now lost a loved one to this disease, thousands more will be affected by long Covid, and the mental, physical and financial ramifications of this pandemic. They will need that community spirit now more than ever. If we come out of this time only thinking of ourselves, then what have we really learned?

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