There was little fuss when Mayor John Tory announced on Thursday that Toronto would make vaccinations mandatory for city employees. Nor should there have been. Governments and organizations across the country are resorting to vaccine mandates as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads and experts describe a fourth wave taking hold.
The Toronto Public Library and the Toronto Transit Commission are bringing in mandates to match the city’s. The five major banks are all doing something similar. The federal government is going to be asking all public servants to be vaxxed; airline and rail passengers, too. Quebec will require a vaccine passport to get into restaurants, festivals and gyms. British Columbia says that those working in care homes must get their jab.
This is not the way anyone wanted to go. Authorities have been understandably reluctant to make shots obligatory. They haven’t wanted to trample on individual autonomy or invite lawsuits. Persuasion, they rightly argued, is always preferable to coercion.
And so, for many months, officials have been putting the message out that the vaccines are safe and that every eligible Canadian should get inoculated as soon as possible. For the most part it worked. After a slow start, Canada has become a vaccination leader.
But we are once again in a tricky spot. Just as it looked as if the pandemic was easing, the Delta variant arrived in force, sending case numbers up again. The unvaccinated are, of course, the most vulnerable.
“In fact,” says the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in a new report, “there is strong evidence emerging that the impact of this latest wave, and the most serious cases within it, is almost entirely concentrated on the unvaccinated. Getting back to a normal life now rests on how many and how fast people get vaccinated. Evidence from around the world shows that vaccination rates do plateau, so getting the hesitant and the reluctant populations vaccinated is critical for the next phase of the fight against COVID-19.”
Toronto’s public health department reported this week that “98.7 per cent of hospitalized COVID-19 cases with known vaccination status were not fully vaccinated.”
So it’s strongly in the self-interest of the unvaccinated to get their jabs. COVID-19 can still kill you. It can still make you very sick. Those who have persuaded themselves that this ordeal is all over or that they can never be infected have not been paying attention.
Worse, they have been disregarding their obligation to their fellow citizens. If large numbers of Canadians continue to remain unvaccinated, the disease is bound to continue spreading and mutating. We need more needles in more arms. Otherwise we will be right back into lockdowns and closures and all the other life-crushing measures we have seen over the last miserable year and a half.
The old excuses for not getting vaxxed, always weak, now look positively deluded. There is more than enough vaccine to go around and appointments for a shot are readily available for just about everybody. “I’m too busy” or “it’s too inconvenient” or “I just don’t think I need it” doesn’t cut it any more.
We learned from a slew of trials that the COVID-19 vaccines were remarkably safe and effective. Many months of experience and millions of vaccinations have confirmed it. The alarms over side effects and dangers have faded. It is hard to argue now that the vaccines are too new or too experimental to take the risk. The risk from the virus is and always has been infinitely greater. Yet a significant number of people still believe that the vaccine is what is dangerous. We can’t afford to indulge them any more.
Vaccine mandates are a way of saying: time’s up. Moderately and lawfully applied, they are a perfectly reasonable response to the combined threat of a new variant and lingering vaccine hesitancy. Most Canadians back them. Toronto’s mayor, Mr. Tory, was right to act.
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