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People listen to a speaker during a rally and march organized by those opposed to COVID-19 vaccination passports and public health measures in Vancouver on Sept. 8.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Many public-sector and private employers set the end of October as the deadline for workers to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, on pain of dismissal. It appears that nine-in-10 or better have complied.

The remainder, research suggests, have such a heightened sense of self-importance, and such a diminished capacity for empathy, that they are willing to become pariahs.

The level of compliance within the public service is phenomenal. The Treasury Board reported Wednesday that 98 per cent of the 268,000 members of the core public service (including the RCMP), are fully or partly vaccinated. The few holdouts face an unpaid leave of absence if they don’t get their shots.

The city of Calgary says that nine in 10 of its workers had received at least one dose of vaccine as of Monday. From here on, unvaccinated employees face mandatory testing and education programs. As of Dec. 1, workers will be required to pay for their twice-weekly tests.

WestJet has suspended without pay about 4 per cent of its work force, or 290 people, who refused to show proof of vaccination. If they don’t comply by the end of this month, they’ll be fired.

Those at risk of losing their job because they refuse to be vaccinated should not look to their unions for support.

“There isn’t a whole lot we’re going to be able to do for members who simply refuse to get vaccinated,” said Chris Aylward, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, in an interview. “This is a workplace policy. It applies to everyone except for the very few who have legitimate exemptions.”

We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of these terminations. British Columbia has had to cancel some surgeries after more than 3,000 health care workers were suspended without pay for refusing to be vaccinated. Quebec and Ontario will not force mandatory vaccination of health care workers, fearing disruptions.

Nonetheless, societal support for mandatory workplace vaccinations is overwhelming. Several polls revealed a large majority of Canadians support mandatory vaccinations in the workplace.

For the small minority of Canadians who are willing to lose their job – and their right to fly or take the train, eat in restaurants, or see a movie or a game among other things – rather than receive the vaccine, the question remains: Who are they and why do they think that way?

According to an Angus Reid Institute poll released Wednesday, they tend to be younger and male. Surprisingly, to this writer, they tend to be upper income rather than lower income. They are more likely to have voted Conservative or People’s Party than Liberal or NDP. There are higher levels of unvaccinated people among Indigenous Canadians than the general population.

Ninety-five per cent of those polled agreed with the statement that mandatory vaccinations represented overreach by government; 90 per cent say they believe the health risks of COVID-19 are exaggerated; 84 per cent trusted their immune system to handle the virus; 76 per cent worried the side effects could be worse than the disease; 55 per cent say the whole pandemic is a government conspiracy.

(The online survey was conducted Sept. 29-Oct. 3 from a representative randomized sample of 5,011 adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. The declared margin of error is within 2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

In a new study of vaccine refusal in 51 countries, researchers at the University of Nevada at Reno correlated vaccine refusal with a high feeling of invincibility along with little sense of obligation to community. “These effects are most pronounced among individuals from countries lower in cultural collectivism (e.g., USA, U.K., Canada),” the researchers found.

The small number of people who are going to extremes to defy vaccines are determined, sometimes revoltingly so. About 30 anti-vax protesters went to the home of Alberta UCP MLA Tracy Allard on Sunday and left a noose on a miniature scaffold, painted with the text, “no to masks, end the gov’t, hang em all.”

Who would do such a thing? Maybe someone who feels invincible, who has little empathy for others, who believes government is trying to beat them down, and who is determined to fight back, even if it costs them their job.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information provided by the Treasury Board about how many public servants are fully or partially vaccinated. This version has been corrected.

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