Starting September 7th, 2021, the Ontario government required all workers in high-risk settings to either take the COVID-19 vaccine, provide a medical reason for refusing vaccination or undergo regular testing and education. This includes workers in healthcare, educational and childcare settings.
Ontario said it will not make vaccines mandatory for its workers. “We encourage them to do it. I’ve been up here for months begging, pleading with everyone to get it but no one should be forced to do anything”, said Ontario’s premier. The premier’s policy is effective because it ensures the safety of Ontario’s population against the Delta variant and does not strip workers in high-risk settings from their constitutional right to refuse the vaccine.
Countries that have passed or are planning to pass vaccine mandates for some or all of their population such as France, Latvia, and America have created a deep divide. In France and Latvia, people flooded the streets protesting for their freedom. Latvia’s protest on mandatory vaccines was the country’s largest protest since 2009.
In America, the mandate has been taken to court. American nurse Jennifer Bridges filed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist Hospital for forcing vaccines upon its workers. Bridges claimed that mandatory vaccination resembled forced experiments conducted on prisoners during the Holocaust. Her lawsuit was dismissed. Bridges along with other healthcare workers across America have either resigned or were fired for refusing to take the vaccine.
Vaccine mandates are bound to create similar protests among the Canadian public. One healthcare worker argues that, “If you’re forced to do something, it’s the reflex to say, ‘no, I’m not going to get it done”. If vaccine mandates are implemented in Ontario, they will only reduce public trust in government and will not motivate the resistant to take the vaccine. Even those in favor of vaccines believe that “I feel that it shouldn’t be forced upon someone”.
Furthermore, if alternatives to vaccines such as personal protective equipment and teleworking are available and if these alternatives are effective enough, then mandating vaccines or imposing severe consequences for refusing vaccination is not ethical. Implementing a vaccine mandate as a condition of employment places economic burden on both the vaccine hesitant and their employers. This is especially challenging in a field like healthcare which is already working at full capacity.
Instead of mandating vaccines, provincial governments should focus their efforts on engaging in open dialogue to understand and address the concerns of the unvaccinated. Vaccine skeptics believe that the safety of vaccines is unclear and the long-term side effects of vaccines are unknown. In their opinion, the complications of the virus have been exaggerated. COVID-19 vaccines are potentially more harmful than COVID-19.
On the other hand, president of the Ontario Medical Association, Dr. Adam Kassam argues that “Vaccines are the best way to control the spread of COVID-19, and remain an essential component in protecting our patients, families and friends”.
This controversy is more than a battle between human safety and human choice. The underlying reasons for promoting or refusing vaccines are the same, concerns regarding human safety. Mandatory vaccination will not resolve this problem.
Studies have shown that the majority of those who refuse are willing to take the vaccine in the future if their reasons for hesitancy are resolved. Instead of mandating vaccines, the Ontario government should focus their efforts on developing quality educational materials and engaging in open dialogue to understand and address the concerns of the unvaccinated.
This type of policy will simultaneously address the needs of both parties. It will encourage vaccination to ensure the safety of Ontarians against the Delta variant and allow the especially hesitant the time and data required to make informed decisions.
Ontario, let us move towards a safe and inclusive vaccine policy.
Gaauree Chawla is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash.