Covid protest

COVID-19 has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Why is Ontario Premier Doug Ford ruling out mandatory vaccine certificates to accommodate this tiny minority that is imposing burdens on the rest of us?

BY IAN PATTISON

With one glaring exception, Doug Ford hasn’t been doing anyone many favours during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite having some of the world’s best medical advice available to him, the premier has largely stumbled through this mess, locking down too late as the virus surged, opening up too early before it subsided. As a result, mental health cases exploded, bankruptcies mounted and people needlessly died.

Though the province is now down to fewer than 200 cases -- and none in Thunder Bay -- it was only eight months ago that the daily case count topped 4,000. ICUs were jammed, hospitals were sending deathly ill patients to other cities with room to treat them, citizens were isolating in fear and business was hanging on by its fingernails.

Not all business, mind you. In a move that rankles small business to this day, big-box and discount stores were allowed an exception to the no-shopping-beyond-essentials rule last November. Aside from groceries, detergent and diapers, these retailers could sell the things that the rules forbade small stores from selling -- clothes, toys, electronics and wrapping paper -- as Christmas approached.

“That’s the moment when this turned into anger,” said Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, “anger at the Ford government, anger at Doug Ford personally. And that has lasted.”

Kelly was speaking to a Toronto Star investigative team that found a disturbing pattern of government decisions that aligned with the efforts of lobbyists with close ties to the Conservative party to favour certain sectors over others and defy public health advice.

Jump ahead now to the matter of vaccinations -- the hesitant, the underserved and those who serve the public in any capacity. Should more be done to ensure we reach herd immunity? Should front-line service personnel be forced to get vaccinated to remain in public contact? Most people think so. Premier Ford does not.

Most Ontarians have willingly lined up for their jabs, few more so than in Thunder Bay which has the second-highest double-vaccination rates for people 12 and over at 69 per cent. Leeds, Grenville and Lanark is highest at 71 per cent.

Province-wide, though, 40 per cent of those 12-to-17, 30 per cent of those18-to-29, 25 per cent of those 30-to-39, and 20 per cent of those 40-to-49 have not even received the first dose of a Covid vaccine, according to Peter Juni, scientific director of the government’s Science Advisory Table.

Juni says that rather than asking the province to consider a vaccine certificate, it may be more appropriate to ask if one can be avoided. Because the Delta variant is on the loose and dominant, he told the Star, more than 90 per cent of Ontarians including small children will have to be vaccinated in order to get the public health situation under control without new restrictions.

There is no alternative to vaccine certificates if we are to continue beating Covid. Yet some believe wild conspiracy theories and others insist certificates infringe on their right to health care privacy.

Covid has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. As long as these holdouts are permitted to turn down vaccinations, the virus and its growing ability to mutate into stronger versions of itself will survive and likely find its way into the bodies of more and more fully vaccinated people. They won’t get deathly ill but they will be able to transmit the virus and we’ll be headed back into a fourth round of debilitating lockdowns.

Ford said last week that his government will neither make COVID-19 injections mandatory nor create “a split society” by implementing vaccine passports.

And so even if large public venues want to require standard government proof of vaccination to enter halls, theatres and stadiums, they won’t be able to force patrons to produce it and you won’t know if the person next to you has been vaccinated.

If stores can’t force employees to show proof of vaccination, the person handing you your merchandise, change, debit or loyalty card may be a live carrier of Covid. What of the health care personnel tending to you in hospitals, clinics and at the offices of doctors, dentists, chiropractors and physiotherapists? Shouldn’t we be sure they are fully vaccinated? Why is the premier resisting this common-sense safety measure given all that we have learned about this disease?

Why is Canada going to such great lengths to accommodate the tiny minority of our fellow citizens who refuse to get vaccinated? asked the Globe and Mail in an editorial.

Some in Quebec are even being rewarded for that choice. Unvaccinated health care workers must take a COVID-19 test three times a week, at taxpayers’ expense. If testing isn’t available in their workplace, these workers are given paid time off to travel to and from a testing site. Radio-Canada reports that as a result, some are being paid hundreds of dollars extra each week.

Does this make sense, asks the Globe? “No. But from coast to coast, Canadian governments are bending over backward to avoid imposing burdens on the unvaccinated. Instead, the unvaccinated are imposing on the rest of us.”

Both the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario came out in favour of mandatory vaccination for front-line workers. Good for them. Ford, though, remains stuck in his ideological opposition to a perceived imposition on personal rights.

While eight of 10 Ontarians eligible for the vaccine have had at least one dose, that still means two of every 10 -- or 2.5 million people -- have not received a shot. With fall and the resumption of school just six weeks away, cooler weather will bring us all back indoors where higher transmission of the virus is assured. Will your child’s teacher be vaccinated? Her bus driver?

If we don’t reach 90--per-cent vaccine coverage, the population remains susceptible to infection by variations of the virus that are hungry for hosts. If we don’t make vaccinations and proof of them mandatory we are asking for trouble all over again.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.