Vaccines offer hope to high risk individuals like my son, but the governmet is failing them

For myself, my son and the rest of Canada, I refuse to believe it is too much to ask this government to give us transparency, a plan and some confidence that we will enjoy the outside world once again. 

James Cumming, Special to National Post

Jan 12, 2021  •  Last Updated 3 hours ago

I felt compelled to write this piece after my wife, Debbie, and I spent another night listening to the latest updates regarding the COVID-19 vaccine rollouts with our son, Garrett. This is an extremely important issue that’s weighing on the hearts and minds of all Canadians, so with our son’s encouragement, I decided I would share my thoughts not only from the seat of a member of Parliament, but from the heart of a father.

Thirty-five years ago, the lives of Debbie and I were forever changed. We welcomed our son into the world and became first-time parents. I remember that day well — we were completely over the moon with what some aptly describe as “new parent nirvana.”

At just three years old, our lives were forever changed once again. Garrett was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a neuromuscular disease that results in the gradual weakening of muscles and eventual loss of cardiac and respiratory functions. DMD is the most common form of muscular dystrophy, the most severe, and at this time there is no cure.

While our parenting journey has evolved much differently from what we had initially imagined, the pride and excitement we feel to care for our son, watch him grow in his own ways and reach milestones and experience successes that many specialists assured us he would not, has stayed with us all along.

Like many, Garrett has demonstrated every day that a diagnosis does not define you, yet at the same time, even after many health restrictions were lifted in the summer, Garrett was among those who could not enjoy a sense of relative normalcy or a return to routine.

Spending most of his days in his room with little contact beyond his immediate family and his team of four brave, hardworking front-line health-care workers, you can only imagine how excited Garrett was to hear that after a gruelling year, not only was a vaccine finally coming to Canada, but he was going to be near the front of the line to receive it. Unfortunately, that excitement was short-lived and swiftly replaced with anxiety and uncertainty.

To many, our story may sound quite unique. I can assure you — it is not. Along with Garrett, there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians living with limiting health conditions who would be described in medical and sociopolitical realms as immunocompromised or codified as vulnerable individuals. For Canadians like my son, access to a vaccine is critically important.

But the federal government’s vaccine rollout “plan” teeters between random procurement at best, and hopeless unfulfillment at worst. Without domestic production capacity, the government has tried to spin its failure as a success story, focusing on the number of purchase orders it has for different vaccines, but as we have seen, that doesn’t necessarily translate to a needle-in-the-arm outcome.

Canada should be leading the rest of the world, not falling behind or struggling to keep up. As I write this, the most assurance that Garrett and others like him have received is that all Canadians who wish to be vaccinated will be by September— no priority announcement, no timeline, no tangible action for Garrett and others to tether their hopes to.

My confidence in our provinces and territories to execute a vaccine rollout plan is absolute — but at this juncture, it is a matter of scarcity. I urge leaders across Canada to focus on vaccinating our nation’s most vulnerable first, rather than allow the politics that has permeated this pandemic to dictate their priorities. In my eyes, it doesn’t matter if a nurse or a pharmacist administers your vaccination, where you receive it or which vaccine you get, it’s that the people who need it most can stop fearing for their lives every day.

Garrett spends each day waiting for some good news and wondering if he will have to continue to spend the next nine months in the same setting, seeing the same faces and feeling the same sense of fear and anxiety. For myself, my son and the rest of Canada, I refuse to believe that it is too much to ask this government to give us transparency, a plan and some confidence that we will enjoy the outside world once again and that we can expect that sooner, rather than later.