As we enter the third year of a global pandemic, it is glaringly obvious that Canadians are divided into two camps – those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t.
Those who are vaccinated can keep their jobs, go to restaurants, work out at the gym, go to movies, attend hospitals, enter public buildings and fly on airplanes. Even shopping may soon become a vaxxed-only activity: In Quebec, large box stores have begun to ask adult customers to show proof of vaccination prior to entering the store. (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/walmart-costco-and-other-big-box-stores-in-canada-begin-enforcing-vaccine-mandates-and-some-shoppers-arent-buying-it-11643135799)
Unfortunately, those who are not vaccinated, for whatever reason, cannot do any of the above. Governments may continue to claim that we do not have vaccine ‘passports,’ but the realities of life suggest otherwise.
One year of rewriting the rules for an interactive society has been sufficient to generate this fracture in our society and it appears to come with a considerable amount of ill will toward the unvaxxed.
According to a January 2022 poll, Canadians (presumably those who are vaccinated) favour harsh punishments for those who refuse to be vaccinated. More than one in three (37%) think it would be acceptable to deny them publicly funded health care, while one in four (27%) believe that a short jail sentence would be a useful exercise in changing their fellow Canadians’ perspective on vaccines. (https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/more-than-one-in-four-canadians-support-jail-time-for-unvaccinated-poll) At the same time, the left-leaning Toronto Star showcased a debate on whether the unvaccinated should have to pay for their own health care. (https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/the-saturday-debate/2022/01/22/the-saturday-debate-should-the-unvaccinated-have-to-pay-for-their-own-health-care.html)
Those who support charging the unvaxxed with health care costs should recognize that they are crossing an exceptionally fine line. A September 2021 report from Oxford showed that smokers were 80% more likely to be admitted to hospital with COVID complications and more likely to die from COVID than non-smokers. (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/959835) Charging for health care can get incredibly complicated once we start putting people into categories based on their behaviours and life decisions.
These underlying tensions have been evident in our pandemic society (to some extent and depending on location) for the past year and various Leger polls during this time have shown majority support (>50%) for mandatory vaccines.
Few Canadians may have paid attention to these polls, but now a massive convoy of truckers is entrenched in the streets of downtown Ottawa and the ‘mandatory vaccine’ conversation has moved abruptly to the forefront of the public square.
Truckers from across Canada are protesting a federal mandate requiring all cross-border workers (like truckers) to be fully vaccinated. Truckers who aren’t vaccinated may be prohibited from entering Canada should they have to carry a load over the border.
There are some unvaccinated truckers who may be leery about the science behind the rapidly developed vaccine. But the key purpose behind the convoy of vaxxed and unvaxxed truckers is to oppose vaccinations as a state-mandated medical procedure.
When considered in such terms (as a state-mandated invasion of our bodily autonomy), the truckers’ message suddenly seems a lot more ‘legitimate’ and it begins to resonate with a host of Canadians (vaxxed and unvaxxed) who have grown weary of governments using the pandemic to extend their legal powers over many aspects of our lives, including medical care.
Whether we care to admit it or not, the truckers’ convoy truly represents a microcosm of Canadian society. Some support vaccination; others don’t. Some support mandatory vaccination; others don’t. Parents may think a vaccine is okay for adults, but don’t want to subject their children to it even though brick and mortar schools could easily become available to only those who are vaccinated.
COVID-19 is a global virus, and it is becoming apparent that our attempts to fully eradicate it are futile. COVID may ultimately evolve into an endemic virus – one that we have to battle with new (and renewed) vaccinations each year. But even as we rely on vaccines to interrupt the transmission of viruses and establish some measure of control over COVID, we have to recognize that vaccines are just one tool that we have; they are not a silver bullet that can completely eliminate COVID. (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-vaccines-are-a-tool-not-a-silver-bullet-if-wed-allowed-more-scientific/). Other forms of control need to be considered such as anti-COVID pills and novel treatments to enhance immunity amongst some individuals and populations.
Susan Martinuk is a Research Fellow in Health Care at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.