Generation C - Insights from a public health doctor
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
What will we call the children born in the 2010s? Generation C?
There’s no doubt the pandemic will cast a long shadow in the lives of today’s kids.
Now parents are being prepared for a vaccination rollout for 5- to 11-year-olds. Public health agencies hold out the tempting hope of a return to normal for immunized children. Yet the past year and a half has shown us that nothing is simple about life in a pandemic.
Dr. David Bowering knows that better than most. Now retired, he spent twenty-five years as a Medical Officer of Health and a decade as Chief Medical Officer of Health for northern British Columbia. He oversaw public health in a region of nearly 600,000 square kilometres.
Before that, he practised hands-on medicine in remote communities, where the General Practitioner did everything from setting bones to x-rays. He is also a grandfather concerned about what the future holds.
Dr. Bowering says he is feeling “cognitive dissonance” about the thought of Covid vaccines being rolled out to young children. This is not a knee-jerk reaction. He is a public health physician who led response to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, who promoted vaccination, who studied epidemiology, and who helped design the province’s emergency pandemic plans.
“We’ve climbed a long way out on a limb,” he says of the rapid rollout of vaccines using a new kind of technology. “We can’t know the long-term effects on immunity and auto-immunity.” As an example, some countries are now halting use of the Moderna vaccine because of an increased risk of heart inflammation, with highest rates in young people and teens. The risk was first identified in Israel, which uses the Pfizer shot.
His experience over decades of seasonal flu outbreaks in small Indigenous
communities showed him that “there is much more complexity in how respiratory viruses move through a population.”
Viruses mutate. Outbreaks come and go. The message of “all will be well” with vaccines is too simplistic. “The virus lands in a petri dish. What are the conditions that make it so comfortable and so happy to spread? Why would we be constantly telling people how powerless they are? We know from basic medical science that fear raises our corticosteroid levels, our stress hormones rise, and that lowers our immune capacity.”
Health promotion – instead of disease promotion – would talk about vitamin D, fresh air, good mental health, exercise and stress reduction, Bowering points out. People could be reassured by putting the pandemic numbers in context. “The average age of death from Covid around the world remains very close to the average life expectancy.”
“How much will this actually improve my child’s chances of not being sick?"
Turning back to parents and what they can do, Bowering suggests that it’s important to “take time from their busy lives on screens to help their kids feel safe and reassured . . . because all of this seems designed to make them afraid of each other and the world around them. The message that we show our love for each other by avoiding each other might make cognitive sense to a parent, but children feel what they feel and see what they see.”
Bowering recommends that parents follow their protective “mamma bear and poppa bear” instincts and ask questions of their physicians. “How much will this actually improve my child’s chances of not being sick? What might it cause in the way of harm? I think people should challenge the notion that somehow immunizing children will protect the rest of the population. Because we are seeing that the Delta variant is spreading quite effectively from vaccinated and in between vaccinated people, as well as into people who haven’t been vaccinated.”
Bottom line: with reports of myocarditis, with most children experiencing mild or no symptoms from Covid, and with extremely rare deaths in children related to comorbidities, he believes that the risk-benefit balance does not support vaccinating children for Covid.
“When we were rolling out vaccines, my mentors always said no matter what, we never mandate vaccines. It’s always important that people have choice, informed choice – and informed consent. . . With so much social pressure on people to be vaccinated, I don’t recognize the public health that does that,” he adds.
What about the stress the pandemic has placed on health care workers? He believes they are victims of a system that was already breaking down before the pandemic. “We’ve come to a point in the history of medicine and health care when no one has the big picture.”
When asked what he would have done differently if he were in charge, Bowering laughs. Instead of maintaining an indefinite state of emergency, with top-down centralized management, “I would re-empower people in the system to do what they do best,” he says. Widely scattered communities could use lockdowns when needed and set their own local measures. Addressing the pandemic should take into account the environmental and social determinants of health.
Instead, these small communities have seen soaring depression rates, suicides and small businesses going under. The one-size-fits-all approach is dangerous and disempowering. It leads to a “sense of victimhood by everyone. “
Bowering looks back in gratitude at the lessons learned from his early days as a small-town GP in the North. “Their care is in your hands – in the community.”
In spite of the global ‘war on Covid’, he says, “We all live in communities; none of us live in the globe. So what matters is how we relate to our neighbours and how we look after each other."
"What makes people healthy isn’t really war. It’s more collaboration. Not only are communities more complex than most people realize, we’re now learning about the biome. We’re realizing that we’re connected, that we’re very much made up of bacteria and viruses and genetic information that’s being produced for free by nature. And we’re part of it.”