Jedwab: COVID-19 vaccine may be mandatory for some, but hard to encourage for all
Published Wednesday, December 9, 2020 7:05AM EST Last Updated Wednesday, December 9, 2020 9:35AM EST
MONTREAL -- I am certain that several of your family members and/or friends have said that they will not take the COVID-19 vaccine. They will, however, need to count on a sufficient numbers of others to do so.
Experts agree that the number of people getting vaccinated is critical. Attaining population immunity to the contagion will depend upon an optimal share of persons that get the vaccine combined with its estimated effectiveness.
Without establishing the required percentage, we can safely assume that it will have to be a very clear majority of the population. In Canada and elsewhere, it will not be simple to attain.
In the most recent surveys conducted by Leger Marketing and the Association for Canadian Studies, some two-thirds of Canadians say they will take an approved vaccine. But digging deeper into the survey results reveals that among those persons declaring that they will do so, nearly half say that they want to wait and see how others fare after taking the first available vaccine.
So, there is clearly some reticence even among the most committed to getting vaccinated.
Until recently, you may have had the impression that the vaccine would be mandatory as opposed to voluntary. Over the past two months, the majority of Canadians surveyed (55 per cent) consistently said that they want the vaccine to be voluntary (some 40 per cent felt it should be mandatory).
I was naïve enough to think that mandatory vaccination should be seriously considered. But making it mandatory confronted some very serious obstacles.
In mid-November, Quebec’s chief medical officer, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said that the possibility of the vaccine being mandatory was very, very remote. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was adamant in saying that his government will not make a vaccine mandatory. Ontario's chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams claimed that the government couldn’t force anyone to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
Those insisting they will not take the COVID-19 vaccine should not feel fully relieved by assurances from government officials. For one thing, it’s not true that the government cannot force anyone to take the vaccine. Even Williams acknowledged that the vaccine could be required for what he subtly referred to as acquiring “certain access.”
For example, the government can compel health-care workers to take the vaccine. Gaining "access," as Williams put it, may mean that a significant number of workers in a range of other key sectors may be required to take the vaccine.
While the majority of Canadians are opposed to a mandatory vaccine, some 63 per cent of the population agrees that employers should have the right to require employees to take it. Those Canadians surveyed that are between 25 and 54 years of age are somewhat more divided about the right of employers to make the vaccine a requirement.
But count on some employers to do so.
The complex issue of being vaccinated so as to get access isn’t limited to the workplace. Travel beyond our borders may also require a COVID-19 vaccine.
An important majority (78 per cent) surveyed by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies agree that Canadians who do not get vaccinated should not be allowed to cross the border into the United States.
To be fair, that isn’t up to us. But a higher percentage of Canadians (83 per cent) agree that we should not grant entry to unvaccinated Americans that wish to come to Canada (which would be up to us).
Given the important share of Canadians and the higher percentage of Americans that say that they will not take the vaccine, we’d theoretically have a serious problem on our hands with any such restrictions once the border reopens.
Indeed, given the substantial numbers of cross border workers and visitors -- not to mention the snowbirds -- a successful vaccine distribution strategy may require a conversation with our American neighbours. The issues around vaccination make for a confusing and complex political puzzle.
Expect a big public education campaign on the part of our government(s) urging Canadians to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Paradoxically, the very same people who refuse to take the vaccine may find themselves attempting to convince enough others to do so. They’ll have to ask them to take it for the proverbial team.
If, however, their powers of persuasion are inadequate, they may just have to grudgingly take the shot.
Jack Jedwab is President of the Association for Canadian Studies.