The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a whole new lexicon of words and phrases over the past 18 months, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced another last week: “One summer at one dose, two doses at autumn”.
He referenced at a press conference when asked about when Canadians might see some of the restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus surge, and what the current deployment plan means for hopes for a near-normal summer.
Following his response, he was faced with more questions about what exactly a “single-dose summer” means and experts say the situation highlights the difficulties politicians face in trying to communicate around a principle. fundamental – but difficult – of science: this can always change.
“It’s a very catchy phrase to have that kind of parallel between one dose and two doses. I mean, these are phrases that are kind of very tight movements, almost public relations, ”said Jessica Mudry, associate president of the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University.
Mudry is also a former chemist and researcher for the Discovery Channel, and is a science communications specialist.
“I think what’s missing behind this is what it actually means scientifically. And I think what we need to do is start educating the public on the scientific ramifications of what one summer dose, two fall doses, actually means.
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Mudry and Dr. Angela Rasmussen, virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, joined West Block guest host Mike Le Couteur for a discussion on how the government is communicating the science of COVID-19 – and what can be improved.
Both highlighted the ever-changing nature of the virus and the measures needed to respond to it as a major challenge to build and maintain public trust, as well as the need to ensure that Canadians understand not only how the rules change, but why.
“I think a lot of people think ‘following the science’ means that we do experiments, checking the facts as we identify them. And that’s really not how science works, ”said Rasmussen.
“Science is normally held in limbo and we don’t know much. In fact, most policies are made in a situation where there is great uncertainty. So any kind of policy, any kind of direction about what people should do in their daily lives can change as we get new information. “
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It is often human nature to gravitate towards absolutes – this or that, yes or no – but Rasmussen and Mudry noted that this is not always possible in science, where theories and hypotheses are constantly tested and updated. updated as new information emerges.
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The more the public knows they can expect these changes, the less shocked they might be for them when advice or expectations suddenly need to be changed, they said.
“People like the line in the sand. They like very, very distinct binaries – it’s X, it’s Y. But science is really advancing because of the gray areas, and we’re living in a gray area right now, ”Mudry said.
“Sometimes that’s where a lot of frustration comes from – there’s a lot of politics.”
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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole faced questions last week about a tweet his party posted and then quickly deleted about Trudeau’s “single-dose summer” vision.
The tweet included two photos, one of a group of unmasked people rallying and laughing under the slogan ‘summer in two doses’, while the second showed a photo of a man lying in a hospital bed hanging on an oxygen mask.
This second image featured the slogan: “Trudeau Summer”.
O’Toole admitted last week that the tweet “had hindered” the conversation on how to safely reopen the company, but said there was still a “serious discussion” to be had on how to move forward. the front.
Public health officials set the first benchmarks for what they want to see before it is probably safe to consider a wider reopening on Friday: in particular, 75% of Canadians vaccinated with a dose of ‘one vaccine and 20% fully vaccinated with both. doses.
If that happens, officials said Canadians could see a return to outdoor activities like sitting on patios and barbecuing with friends outside – although this remains an “ambitious target,” according to Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer.
READ MORE: COVID-19 indoor restrictions could be eased by fall if 75% are fully vaccinated: PHAC
Mudry said the conversation around what people can expect must recognize that a lot can still change and, more importantly, politicians don’t have all the answers.
“A lot of times people think it’s coming from a moment of weakness, but it actually helps build trust between a speaker and their audience by being able to say, ‘I really don’t know that right now, but we do our best to obtain the most up-to-date, scientifically-based information. “
“I think it would instill a little more confidence in the Canadian public in the government.
Canadian health officials say COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted when 75% are fully vaccinated
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