Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for public-sector employees in Manitoba who work with vulnerable populations was the next logical step in the fight against COVID-19. Expanding vaccine mandates in public places, expected to be unveiled soon by the province, is also a necessary move to return to normal life.
The provincial government announced Tuesday that a wide range of public-sector workers, including health-care staff, teachers, early childhood educators and jail guards, must be fully immunized by Oct. 31, or face regular testing that could be as frequent as three times a week for full-time staff.
It’s difficult to fathom why governments would have to resort to such mandates, given the overwhelming evidence of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. It is particularly surprising that anyone in the health-care field – many of whom have seen the deadly effects of COVID-19 first-hand – would need a mandate to get immunized.
Health-care staff work in some of the highest-risk settings of any profession when it comes to infectious disease. For that reason, they were among the first in line to get immunized in the early stages of the vaccine rollout.
There’s every reason to believe most health-care staff have been fully vaccinated, although there is no available data on it. However, it appears a minority have not. That’s why Doctors Manitoba, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association have called on governments to make vaccinations mandatory for all front-line health-care workers. They understand better than most how critical vaccines are to saving lives and protecting hospital capacity.
The same life-saving principles apply to mandatory immunization in public schools and child-care centres. Children under 12 remain ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines and may not be able to get immunized until early 2022. It’s critical that teachers, school staff and early childhood educators are fully vaccinated, not only to protect themselves and unvaccinated children, but also to mitigate community transmission of the virus.
Mandating vaccines for public-sector workers, including MLAs, was the right decision. It’s unfortunate it didn’t come sooner, especially with students returning to school in less than two weeks. It’s also disappointing the Pallister government has not made vaccines mandatory for all post-secondary campuses (although most are doing so on their own).
Vaccine mandates appear to be the only viable solution to increasing immunization rates at this critical juncture in the pandemic.
Vaccine mandates appear to be the only viable solution to increasing immunization rates at this critical juncture in the pandemic. There is a sizeable portion of Manitobans – perhaps as large as a quarter of the population – who don’t believe they need to get immunized, or have delayed getting their first or second doses. Some face barriers to health-care services, while a very small minority may have legitimate medical reasons for not getting immunized.
Many, however, simply refuse to get vaccinated based on dangerous and unproven conspiracy theories. Some have embraced false, discredited claims that vaccines are experimental and cause more harm than good. That group has been led down a destructive path of deceit and misinformation and have been unresponsive to reason and scientific evidence. Many are unlikely to change their minds. Meanwhile, their actions, or inactions, are threatening the health and safety of all Manitobans.
Vaccine mandates in the public sector and proof-of-immunization cards are both necessary and reasonable responses to vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccine sentiment. These steps will undoubtedly convince some Manitobans to get immunized. They will, at the very least, help keep public places safe. They represent Manitoba’s best chance at returning to normal life.