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Is the COVID-19 Vaccine a Golden Ticket?

Leanna M.W. Lui, HBSc

Disclosures

July 15, 2021

The past 15 months have been a blur; time was moving but life was at a standstill.

It honestly feels as though the year 2020 didn't happen. It was a year in limbo.

The endless frenzy of lockdowns, quarantine measures, and stay-at-home orders (at least in Canada) halted most forms of social interaction — and for good reason. However, I think most of us can admit that the uncertainty of the virus, and darkness at the end of the tunnel, only burrowed hope for post-pandemic life.

As a student and athlete, adjusting to the new norms of "Zoom" university and at-home workouts seemed adventurous at first. Having a quiet commute from work to home and vice versa seemed great as well. The subway car was virtually empty. There was lots of space to distance, and the subway lines were moving smoothly. However, as the fatigue and exhaustion set in, and the city (Toronto) grew quiet, it was almost quite eerie. As dramatic as it sounds, it looked as though we were set in a dystopian movie with empty streets. And like so many of us, I was eager to return to some sense of normalcy. I was ready for a vaccine to be approved.

COVID-19 reminded many of us of the importance of social connection. Physical distancing regulations have made it difficult to create new social bonds and maintain existing ones. Though social media platforms have made it possible to connect with our friends and family, the experience of sitting behind a screen and enduring awkward silences comes with its challenges.

Researchers have reported increases in depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, psychological distress, and general distress as a result of the pandemic. Factors such as lockdown and quarantine measures exacerbated financial insecurity (job loss, housing insecurity, etc.). School closures and changes in the care vs paid economy have become key mediators of stress. The care economy refers to the economy of unpaid labor (eg, of children and older adults).

As a result of stay-at-home orders, many restaurants, retail shops, gyms, and personal care services were closed. Jobs were put on hold or lost entirely. The economic impact of the pandemic has been widespread and devastating. It has been suggested that suicide is associated with an increase in unemployment. As such, preventing suicide needs to be prioritized as a public health objective — and this could manifest in many different forms, including financial provisions, labor market programs, and resilience enhancement strategies.

Easy to say, difficult to do.

Women have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. With the advent of stay-at-home orders leading to, for instance, restaurant and retail closures, many have lost jobs. Additionally, school closures, which have exacerbated educational disparities, have aggravated the role of women in the care economy. Increased personal demands as well as work demands have made it a difficult balancing act. As such, it's been hypothesized that women are more likely to have to furlough promotions and take time off work in order to keep up with the demands of the household.

Circling back to vaccines ... Why are they so important? Aside from the clear health benefits they provide, they're also vital for reopening the economy, and thus, opening up our lives.

Over the past few weeks in Canada, we've seen an increase in vaccine administration and a decline in caseload. With this trend, governments have been more inclined to open up the economy. From nonessential retail to patios to small gatherings, we're starting to see a gradual return to pre-pandemic life. By supporting our businesses, being able to socialize with friends and family, and feeling as though life is returning to normal, it feels as though the finish line is close.

Prior to the rollout of the vaccine, the most we could do to control the caseload was limit our in-person interactions. However, lockdown was never a sustainable option. Now, with the rollout of the vaccines, people are given a greater sense of control.

Vaccines instill a sense of personal agency.

But it's not clear whether we will see a collective portrait of positivity following the pandemic.

What about those who have been infected with COVID-19 and are exhibiting symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder? Or those who have "post–COVID-19 syndrome"? It has been hypothesized that individuals with post–COVID-19 syndrome are at increased risk for suicidal ideation and behavior due to persistent psychiatric, neurologic, and physical symptoms.

It's becoming increasingly evident that COVID-19 will have lasting effects. However, we can help mitigate the immediate physical and psychological impact of the pandemic by continuing with the vaccination effort. While the vaccine may not be the all-in-one golden ticket to remedy the downfalls of this past year, we can look to it as an avenue of hope and success for the future.

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About Leanna Lui
Leanna M.W. Lui, HBSc, completed an HBSc global health specialist degree at the University of Toronto, where she is now an MSc candidate. Her interests include mood disorders, health economics, public health, and applications of artificial intelligence. In her spare time, she is a fencer with the University of Toronto Varsity Fencing team and the Canadian Fencing Federation.

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