One year has passed since the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This gives some a chance to reflect on how it started, where we are today and what the next year holds. Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik is a physician and activist in Guelph, Ontario who publishes a blog regularly on her Facebook profile. We asked Dr. Zajdlik if she could be a guest contributor for WDG Stay Well Blog sharing her reflections.
The First Anniversary
On March 8, 2020, I was returning home from a week spent in Florida with a dear friend. An annual trip for the last seven years, the 2020 trip was different. I spent so much of my time preoccupied with COVID-19. I kept trying to convince Canadians who were spending the winter in Florida to make their way home. I remember sitting on the beach with one couple who were worried about whether or not they would make it to visit their son in Italy….in April.
They didn’t make the trip. I was sitting at the gate waiting for my flight home. I waited for hours and watched hundreds of people come and go. I was wearing a mask. A few other folks were wearing masks too. I felt like bit of an idiot sitting there. I remember sneezing. People around me got up and moved further away. A simple ordinary sneeze, an unusual and extraordinary reaction and I knew, at that moment that the world was no longer ‘normal.’
Do you remember how crushing COVID-19 was on Italy? Do you remember watching images of elderly people hooked up to ventilators on their bellies? Do you remember images of patrons locked in their cabins on the Diamond Princess and watching the daily totals of new cases in China? Terrifying.
I remember feeling this huge rush of panic when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. That was almost a year ago, unbelievably enough. And here we sit, at the tail end of a second wave, fearful of a third wave as we approach that distinguished anniversary. It was a year of loss. We have lost so many of the freedoms we took for granted like heading into a grocery store with no fear, like sending our kids off to school without a second thought, like heading off to work and sharing lunch with our work colleagues, like eating in a restaurant, like travelling to Florida in 2021 or any other lost trip to somewhere else in the world. But, COVID-19 has also created some interesting opportunities which may just make our community and our world, a better place. We have learned the power of collaboration across private and public sectors. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is now being viewed as a shining example of this collaboration. Led by our incredibly strong and intelligent medical officer of health, Dr. Nicola Mercer, she and her team have pulled together an incredible force for good, a massive network of skilled people from the Guelph Family Health Team led by one of my heroes, Ross Kirkconnell, the University of Guelph and Linamar. Three mass vaccination clinics in Guelph alone that will be able to immunize thousands of people a day. This is truly a remarkable feat from which we can learn important lessons about compassionate leadership and collaboration that can be used to solve both local and global problems in the future. We put aside all that divides us in a community and worked to assist and protect the most vulnerable. We have seen, acknowledged and responded to the ageism, inequities and injustices that have left so many people at greater risk of getting COVID-19 and suffering the financial and economic consequences of the pandemic. We sacrificed our freedoms to protect our health care system and the health and wellbeing of others. We learned and adopted new and innovative ways of communicating, educating, worshiping and socializing. We pivoted our way of doing business. We did all this while wearing the symbol of our unity and commitment to follow our public health leaders: that three layer mask.
A year of suffering, loss, confusion and fear; a year of innovating, giving, serving and caring for one another. And this next year, everything will change. We are about to be part of the massive roll out of COVID-19 vaccines. I know that people are divided on the issue of vaccines: those that are comfortable getting a vaccine, those that are vaccine hesitant and those that are against vaccines. Vaccines are the final and necessary tool needed for us to conquer COVID-19. Without them, the pandemic could linger for years.
Science was ready for COVID-19. As an HIV physician treating HIV positive people since 1990, I have watched what science and technology is capable of. We have taken AIDS, a universally deadly disease, also caused by a virus, to now a chronic and manageable disease using powerful medications. I helped young people die throughout the nineties. Now I prescribe one pill once a day and these patients literally move on to live a normal life expectancy. Oh that I could have handed these same medications to the dozens of patients who died under my care.
As many in the world joined forces to end the AIDS pandemic, science developed new technologies and treatments never used before. For three decades, the scientific community has been developing messenger RNA technology. The time for these vaccines has come. Probably the most effective and safe vaccines ever created, the research and intelligence behind them has been decades in the making. With the world now throwing its intellectual and financial might at COVID-19, moving these vaccines through trials that started last February, before the pandemic was declared, was not rushed, it was resourced. We have been waiting for the opportunity to use this miraculous technology. Have no fear. These vaccines will get us back to a normal life. They are safe and we are ready to receive millions of them.
Such a difficult and important year. My heartfelt gratitude to our remarkable community.
And my ‘big thinking’ hope is, that during this time the world will have learned how to work together across borders, cultures, genders, races, and politics to conquer the global crisis that will follow.
Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik MD CCFP, HIV AIDS Physician and Activist