The world, it seems, is finally starting to run out of patience with the unvaccinated. With the Delta variant now filling hospitals and emergency rooms with a new flood of COVID-19 patients, governments and corporations are getting tougher with those who refuse to get their jabs.
Last week, New York City announced it would require people to show proof of at least one vaccination shot before entering businesses, while companies like Tyson Foods, Disney, Google and United Airlines now require employees to be vaccinated as a condition of employment.
The use of these sorts of sticks has been harder to come by here in Canada, where most political leaders continue to rag the puck on implementing vaccine passports.
On Tuesday, the University of Ottawa became the first major post-secondary institution in Canada to require its students and staff to get vaccinated, but the rest remain curiously shy about the issue. After all, as law professors Debra Parkes and Carrisima Mathen wrote last week, “There is a sound constitutional basis on which universities can require proof of vaccination status, during a pandemic, as a condition of enrolment.”
Post-secondary institutions are hardly the only ones who seem unwilling to do the obvious here. Despite nearly three in four Canadians supporting the idea of vaccine passports, it’s hard to find a political leader outside of Quebec who’s willing to back this obvious winner. The Ford government in Ontario, for example, has suggested that a vaccine passport could be prone to fraud, and it still refuses to require health-care workers to get vaccinated.
Alberta has been predictably recalcitrant, with Premier Jason Kenney declaring during last month’s Calgary Stampede that “we will not facilitate or accept vaccine passports.” His rationale? “I believe they would in principle contravene the Health Information Act and also possibly the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”
Other governments haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory here, either. Even federal leaders like Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh have tiptoed around the issue. On Wednesday, the federal immigration minister announced that digital versions of vaccine passports could be available by the fall, but they remain optional, not obligatory. It’s as if everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move — and draw the ire of the anti-vax movement so they don’t have to.
But we can’t afford to play chicken like that with a virus that is now more contagious than ever. As we head into the fall, we need our leaders to step up if we’re going to avoid a fourth or even fifth wave.
That’s the message that was sent by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce earlier this week. In an interview with CBC, new president and CEO Deborah Yedlin said, “Our members have told us that a vaccine certificate passport is a very good idea, and it’s really, really critical to be able to continue to open successfully and consistently.” She wasn’t done there. “If we’re not going to be testing, tracing, and isolating, we need another mechanism to keep everyone safe.”
That mechanism, it’s increasingly clear, is mandatory vaccinations. This is hardly the groundbreaking affront to freedom and liberty that some want to pretend. Children, after all, already have to be vaccinated in some provinces for things like measles, diphtheria, and chicken pox before they can attend school. If that’s good enough for them, it should be more than good enough for the rest of us.
It’s as if everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move — and draw the ire of the anti-vax movement so they don’t have to, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #COVID19
Yes, the usual suspects will make the usual noises about how this represents an abrogation of their freedom. They’ll misunderstand both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and George Orwell’s 1984, and they’ll make themselves out to be martyrs rather than morons. But for the rest of us, it’s time to move on — and move ahead.
The carrots that governments dangled, from lottery prizes to cash payments, haven’t moved the needle nearly far enough. Global vaccination rates remain well short of where they need to be for us to reach “herd immunity,” and the so-called “vaccine hesitant” are only getting more deeply entrenched in their opposition. It will take more than gentle encouragement for countries like Canada to escape the recurring nightmare that is COVID-19. It will require resolve, courage, and the willingness to tell people what they need — not want — to hear.
If some people want to stay home, they can stay home. That’s their choice. And if they want to pretend they’re freedom fighters rather than stubborn fools, let them. But if they want to participate in society, whether it’s sending a kid to school or flying on an airplane for a vacation, they’re going to need to make the choice to get vaccinated. The cost of continuing to cater to their wilful ignorance, both in economic and human terms, is simply too high.