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Today’s mailbox: Kindness, shingles and speed limits

Letters to the editor published Dec. 4, 2020

Yukon spirit

Tuesday around 5:30 p.m., I was driving north on the snowy Klondike Highway when I lost control of my car and ended up well into the snow berm on the west side of the road, opposite Hidden Valley subdivision. (Fortunately there was no traffic in the southbound lane.) As I emerged from the passenger door of my car — the driver’s door being blocked by snow — a young couple stopped to see if I was OK. The kind young woman lent me her phone to call my wife.

Moments later another young man stopped and offered to pull me out with his four-wheel drive truck. This he did most efficiently using a tow strap he produced from his truck. I don’t think much more than 20 minutes elapsed from the time my car left the road until I was back on the road home again, a little late for dinner.

During these difficult pandemic times it was heart-warming to be helped so quickly, selflessly and capably by these fine young people. I obtained the name of the young man who pulled my car out of the ditch, but not the names of the young couple. To all of you, my sincere thanks and appreciation for the kindness you extended to a complete stranger.

Bill Klassen

Whitehorse, Yukon

Seniors Action Yukon calls for increased Shringrix availability

If you’ve had chicken pox, you are at risk of developing shingles. Shingles is horrible at any age, but can be particularly devastating for older adults, age 50 and up. Alberta Health and others state that more than half of people over 85 are liable to suffer from shingles – more than half – and the disease and complications can be even more severe at that age.

According to the British Columbia Ministry of Health, at least one in five people with shingles will end up suffering from a severe complication known as PHN (a short acronym for the scary name of Post-Herpetic Neuralgia). PHN is nerve pain that can last for months or years, and prevent people from doing normal activities like walking, sleeping, reading, or spending time with friends or family. This can have significant impacts on a person’s ability to age in place.

The Yukon government definitely deserves some praise for funding a vaccine to prevent shingles for older Yukoners. However, the praise is tempered because, for some unknown reason, the vaccine will only be free to those between the ages of 65 and 70. The publicly stated claim is that this is the age when Shingrix is most effective.

Seniors Action Yukon (SAY) has done a little bit of research. We cannot find any evidence that states the Shingrix vaccine is most effective from the age of 65 to 70. Shingrix has only been approved since 2018 in Canada and there is evidently no upper age limit for its effectiveness. In fact, there are still open questions about how long Shingrix’ protection lasts, whether it is four years or ten or fifteen.

The comprehensive review of health and social services led by an expert panel, and the Chief Medical Officer of Health in his 2018 Annual Report, recommended that shingles vaccine be made free for older Yukoners. No age limits were recommended.

B.C., Alberta, and other jurisdictions recommend shingles vaccine for adults aged 50 and up. According to the US Centre for Disease Control, there is a marginal — very marginal — decline in effectiveness in Shingrix for folks over 70 (from 97 per cent to 91 per cent for the disease, and from 91 per cent to 89 per cent for the severe PHN complication). This does not mean that the vaccine is not effective — any rate over 90 per cent is almost magical.

The final piece of information we uncovered through the Canadian Institute for Health Information is that only Ontario funds the old shingles vaccine for ages 65 to 70 (news reports suggest this will be changed to Shingrix). There is some suggestion that the old vaccine’s effectiveness diminished after age 70, but that does not apply to Shingrix. It is a different type of vaccine and is so much more effective than the old vaccine at preventing shingles, minimizing its complications, and reducing the pain and impact if the virus re-emerges. (The most common side effects are temporary, particularly a sore arm after injection).

Based on what we have found, SAY believes that the Shingrix vaccine should be funded for everyone over 65 as part of pharmacare. A possible option for the government to consider might be to fund Shingrix for all seniors in a first “catch-up” year. Every year thereafter people who turn 65 could be eligible. The vaccine offering could be repeated down the road once the evidence has established the effective lifespan of the vaccine’s coverage (currently four years but may be as long as fifteen).

We hope that the evidence will persuade the government to rethink its Ontario-copycat approach to setting an age for the shingles vaccine, to prevent this horrible disease and its complications as much as possible for older Yukoners.

Deborah McNevin

Co-facilitator, Seniors Action Yukon

On downtown speed limits

The following is an open letter to the City of Whitehorse.

Safety for all is necessary. I believe this can be obtained without decreasing the speed limit.

Enforce the present speed limit with no exception — 50 km/h means 50 km/h not 55 or 60. This is a maximum speed limit for ideal conditions. There are other laws that cover distracted driving, careless driving and dangerous driving which should be enforced. I am sure enforcement will pay for itself just as the recent cell phone enforcement raised $9,000.

Second and Fourth avenues, which are main arteries, will become parking lots if you further reduce the speed limit.

Just as some people think 50 km/h means 60, other people think 50 km/h means 40 or 45 km/h. Reduce the speed limit to 40 and some people with drive 30 km/h. You cannot go faster than the vehicle ahead of you.

If the speed limit is a maximum of 50 km/h and enforced, only under ideal conditions will people drive the speed limit of 50 km/h as many times during the day the traffic on Second and Fourth avenues is bumper to bumper, stop and go.

I do hope you will enforce the 50 km/h rather than 40 km/h.

Gayle Moffatt

Whitehorse, Yukon