There’s a new premier in Alberta who astoundingly calls unvaccinated Canadians “the most discriminated against” group she’s ever known.

There’s a new federal Conservative leader who has spent this year cheering convoy belligerence and doing everything to convince Canadians vaccine mandates (even in the midst of a deadly, once-in-a-century global pandemic) are the height of despotism.

And now, with COVID-19 surging and winter coming, Ontario’s top public health official — obliged to convey messages shaped by science and real-world observation rather than political opportunism, crass populism and strategic ignorance — warns that we may be facing renewed mask mandates and stepped-up vaccination campaigns to avoid overrunning our hospitals even more than they already are.

Yes, get ready for exhortations to “flatten the curve” yet again.

With official Ottawa now engrossed in an inquiry into the Emergencies Act — invoked in February to quell the senseless, dangerous anti-mandate border blockades and occupation of Canada’s capital — it’s a good time for a reminder about three crucial realities: the pandemic has confronted our country with an unprecedented peril; it has caused the deaths of a tragically large number of Canadians; and it could have been much, much, much worse if not for our largely successful vaccination-centred public health response to the threat.

More Canadians have died of COVID-19 in the past two-and-a-half years — over 45,000 nowthan were killed in the six-year-long Second World War. But the pandemic death toll could have been astronomically higher.

How much higher? Multiply the misery by 10, perhaps even 20.

Thanks to the rapid development of COVID vaccines and this country’s relatively effective distribution of doses — including efforts at the national, provincial and local levels to persuade people to get jabbed and boosted — hundreds of thousands of Canadian lives have been saved, according to both a recent British study that estimated the global impact of vaccines in averting pandemic deaths, and similar research by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Whenever we encounter misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccine safety and efficacy, we need to pause, take a deep breath and — as so many public health officials have had to do so often over the course of the pandemic — counter falsehoods with facts.

It can be tedious to advance such rebuttals, but they have become necessary at a time when anti-vaxxer influencers — and their allies and defenders in politics and on social media — work relentlessly to besmirch medical experts and the governments that have promoted vaccination, imposed (and lifted) vaccine mandates and pushed face-masking and other basic COVID-19 protection measures to ... SAVE LIVES.

Do we really need to spell this out — in capital letters, no less? Sadly, yes.

When newly minted Alberta Premier Danielle Smith ranted last week about the supposed discrimination suffered by unvaccinated individuals, a chorus of critics rightly countered her incomprehensible claim by referencing numerous examples of actual discrimination — by race, gender, sexual orientation and more.

But this was also an opportunity to remind Canadians of the underlying purpose of the country’s COVID vaccination effort and what it has achieved.

Canada recorded 45,689 COVID-related deaths since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, according to the Oct. 14 update from the Canadian government.

Skeptics and fools will deny the validity of this and other verifiable measures of COVID-19’s awful impact, but most reasonable people will believe the sorrowful statistic and consider it a tragic loss of life from an epic plague that has demanded extraordinary state intervention in all countries around the world.

Canadians can be grateful that the pandemic death toll has not been higher. And they should all understand that without the introduction of COVID-19 vaccinations in December 2020, along with various mandates and restrictions that ultimately led to about 90 per cent of the country’s population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of 2021, the pandemic death toll would have been many, many times greater than it has been.

There’s clear evidence of this, though evidence is a dirty word to COVID denialists, vaccine resisters and conspiracy-minded fabulists. A study published earlier this year in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases by a team of British epidemiologists offered a solidly researched estimate of just how many deaths were averted in countries around the world — including Canada — through COVID-19 vaccination programs.

Infection and vaccination rates in each country were analyzed alongside official mortality figures, excess death estimates and other data to yield an approximate number of deaths avoided thanks to vaccines. The study, widely reported in June, concluded that 19.8 million lives were saved globally during just the first year that vaccines were available, from December 2020 to December 2021.

And the impact of vaccination in Canada alone — captured in a table buried in the study’s unpublished appendix and reported here for the first time — was more than 300,000 LIVES SAVED during that first year of jabs, according to the study’s lead author, Dr. Oliver Watson of Imperial College London.

“To save you digging around, for Canada, our central estimate is 314,100 deaths averted,” Watson said in an email.“And our uncertainty in our estimates for Canada ranges from 285,900 to 448,400.”

Canada is among the countries that rank highest in the world in “deaths averted” per capita because of the vaccination programs rolled out across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Imperial College London/The Lancet Infectious Diseases

To be clear, with upper-case emphasis: The estimated number of Canadians who didn’t die of the coronavirus because they’d been vaccinated by December 2021 was about 10 TIMES the total pandemic death toll of 30,000 at that time.

With official Ottawa engrossed in an inquiry into the #EmergenciesAct, it’s a good time to remember vaccines and other COVID measures saved lives, writes @randyboswell #cdnpoli #EmergenciesActInquiry #COVID19 #WashMaskSpace #VaccinesWork #coronavirus

And depending on the precision of the estimates in the study, the number of deaths averted might have been 15 times higher than actual deaths — or close to 450,000 Canadians spared from a fatal case of COVID during the time period analyzed.

In August, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and six other researchers with the Public Health Agency of Canada published their best estimate of the number of lives saved — up to 800,000 as of April 2022 — thanks to this country’s pandemic vaccination programs.

Skeptics will dismiss their findings as inflated and self-serving. But again, it’s necessary to point out that the research relied on verifiable baseline data, was conducted using accepted scientific modelling methods and was peer-reviewed by other experts in the field.

As with “evidence,” terms such as “verifiable,” “scientific” and “experts” send up red flags of doubt for a tiny, truth-averse fraction of Canada’s population; to be clear, their objections can be discounted.

“Without the use of restrictive measures and without high levels of vaccination, Canada could have experienced substantially higher numbers of infections and hospitalizations and almost a million deaths,” concluded the Canadian study, which appeared in the PHAC-published Canada Communicable Disease Report.

So how much worse might the death toll have been? If Tam et al. are right, then without its ambitious vaccination programs, Canada might have experienced something like 20 times more COVID deaths than it has so far.

Let that sink in.

Consider how many more funerals, memorial services and “celebration of life” gatherings the average Canadian would have attended in the past few years. Think about your own family.

There may be sound arguments that the Canadian government and public health agencies across the country mishandled aspects of the pandemic response and perhaps even overstepped at times when pressing citizens to get vaccinated. But such arguments can only be taken seriously if they also acknowledge the true magnitude of the public health emergency Canada has faced, the terrible toll it has taken on our nation, and the remarkable number of lives that have been saved.

Randy Boswell is Carleton University journalism professor. He was previously a national reporter with Postmedia News, specializing in coverage of Canadian politics, history, culture and science.

Keep reading

Thank you for this. There are some useful stats in this piece that can be used to counter the critics and skeptics of our vaccination program (not that these people will listen). We are so fortunate to live in a country like Canada, where there were such effective measures taken to deal with the pandemic. Yes, how quickly people seem to forget the danger posed by COVID-19 (a danger which still exists).

Yes thank you. Great statistics. Too bad the anti vaxers won't believe them. 25 to 40 people PER DAY, are dying right now in Canada.