Sustainable Approaches to Health
As the pandemic drags on into another winter, we need to make current health practices and habits sustainable over the long term.
Vaccines have certainly been one of the most useful tools we’ve had to reduce deaths and hospitalizations. Yet looking to Europe, the U.S., and Israel (an early champion of vaccination), we can see that vaccines won’t be silver bullets. Evidence shows that we’ll need to expect regular boosters, and not simply third doses currently being rolled out. The pharmaceutical companies who manufacture the vaccines have been saying this for some time, although these warnings haven’t always been reported with the importance they deserved. So as we design our vaccine mandates, we’ll need to look at long-term logistics. How can we ensure quick access to vaccines every six to twelve months, and how should we target different age groups? Will the latest round of boosters be necessary to have access to public places? And if so, how long will people have to get these boosters? A harmonized roll-out across provinces will be key. If one province recommends a booster to younger age groups but another doesn't, we shouldn't be surprised to see a rise in vaccine hesitancy.
Schools will also need to have a better understanding of the impacts of health measures on students, especially the most vulnerable. We still have little knowledge of the emotional and developmental impacts of many policies. We’ve learned that virtual learning is a poor substitute for in-class instruction, something that hardly comes as a surprise. Yet we also need a better understanding of the impacts of social distancing and masks on autistic students and those with ADHD. Students who had a hard time concentrating under normal conditions may be struggling much more now. Our policies need to address these challenges.
In recent years we’ve made tremendous progress in reducing the amount of garbage that we generate. Sadly, many of our approaches to the pandemic have moved us backwards in this sense. Perhaps most important are disposable masks, which have become the most popular option in recent months, as they’re very cheap. The think-tank called Oceans Asia estimates that of the 52 billion disposable masks produced in 2020, about 1.5 billion will end up in the world’s oceans, and 2021 could easily be worse. These masks take over 400 years to break down, and will be a major source of micro-plastics for centuries to come, negatively impacting marine life. With many disposable masks also littering our streets and parks, we should consider re-usable face coverings whenever possible.
As a last example, many of us have been under the impression that the pandemic would pass quickly, especially after initial vaccine roll-outs. Simplistic coverage in certain media outlets is certainly a large part of the cause. However, as unrealistic expectations are dashed, we’ll need to be mindful of mental health, both for ourselves and those around us. Early intervention with loved-ones suffering from depression or anxiety will be invaluable.