Vaccine Mandates?

FILE PHOTO: A vial of AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine doses at a facility in Milton, Ontario, Canada, March 3, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

By Dima Kulakov

COVID-19 vaccine mandates are coming to Canada in one form or another.

The federal government announced it will soon require all public servants, as well as passengers on commercial planes, cruise ships and interprovincial trains in Canada to be vaccinated.

Some big employers are looking into mandatory vaccination policies for Canadian staff.

With the fourth way of COVID caused by the Delta variant (according to the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada), ahead of the start of the school year and with borders reopening to fully vaccinated travellers next month, some experts suggest putting vaccine mandates in place in anticipation of another surge of infection rates.

“They’re coming — one way or the other,” said Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

“Do you want to do it while we are calm in the water? Or do you want to do it when the storm is raging around us?”

There is no coordination between provinces on this front – some oppose the concept while others fully embrace it.

Quebec was first to announce that vaccine passports for non-essential services, like bars, restaurants, and gyms would soon be mandated. British Columbia and Manitoba are following.

Alberta and Ontario have repeatedly opposed the introduction of vaccine passports or mandatory vaccinations, even for health care workers. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that the province is “not going to have a split society.”

“Unfortunately, the provincial and territorial scene is likely to remain a patchwork… And I don’t think the federal government can force vaccine certificates on subnational jurisdictions.” said Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 immunity task force. Healthcare lies within provincial jurisdiction, so with no consensus between provinces, federal vaccine passports would help Canadians travel abroad, but not make much of a difference at home.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, says that it’s become clear that Canada will not take a national approach to vaccine certification because the federal government doesn’t have the authority to direct provinces and territories to come on board. “We’re going to have vastly different strategies, with Alberta at one end of the spectrum, and Quebec at the other end of the spectrum — and provinces in between.”

Many doubt how effective vaccine mandates would be in controlling the spread of COVID-19 among the unvaccinated, and whether testing can become instrumental in keeping transmission low, as, realistically, some people will likely never be vaccinated for a number of reasons.

“We want to protect public places and people attending them by not having infectious folks around. You can do that with double vaccine — or by showing a negative test for the minority not vaccinated for various reasons… It’s obviously better on a personal front to be vaccinated, but it preserves some choice while people are getting there,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious diseases physician at Dalhousie University.

Canada is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, with more than 60 percent of the Canadian population fully vaccinated. However, the other 40 percent are still susceptible to a potentially deadly virus and kids under 12 years old are not even eligible for the vaccine. Another outbreak may lead to new lockdowns which would once again put the Canadian population under considerable stress. So, this begs the question, is our society running out of time and ideas on how to protect the vulnerable?