COVID-19 vaccine mandates have worked in Canada — but they’re harder than ever to justify

Protesters calling for an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, among other demands, gather near the provincial legislature in Toronto on Feb. 5. Mandates have worked extraordinarily well at getting more Canadians vaccinated, but they are increasingly hard to justify. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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COVID-19 vaccine mandates have worked extraordinarily well at getting more Canadians vaccinated, but they are increasingly hard to justify — not because of protests or political pressure but because they’re a victim of their own success.

Vaccinations have been mandated for certain jobs, such as health-care workers and federal public servants, while vaccine passports have been put in place for non-essential services such as gyms, bars and restaurants for the general population.

And they’ve been an undeniable success: lifting Canada’s vaccination rate to one of the highest in the world, protecting vulnerable sectors of society such as hospitals and long-term care and helping us achieve one of the lowest rates of death in the developed world.

“There’s now obvious evidence that they work,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said during a press conference Friday.

Trudeau warns of ‘severe consequences’ for anti-vaccine mandate protesters who don’t stand down

“We saw a plateau in the uptake of vaccines after a really tremendous effort by Canadians, and then after the introduction of vaccine mandates by the various provinces and territories and jurisdictions, we did see an uptick.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos added that mandates worked to get 99 per cent of federal public servants vaccinated, and that over the last six months as many as three million Canadians chose to get vaccinated sooner because of them.

“Vaccination is not punishment. Vaccination is protection,” he said. “Let’s imagine what the situation with Omicron would now be if we had up to three million Canadians not vaccinated.

WATCH | Experts say ending vaccine mandates too soon could undo what’s been accomplished:
Experts warn about ending vaccine mandates too soon
2 days ago
Duration 2:00
Experts say COVID-19 vaccine mandates have been effective at reducing transmission, hospitalizations and compelling people to get vaccinated, but ending them too soon could undo some of what’s been accomplished in the past year. 2:00
The case against vaccine mandates

But as the massive Omicron-driven fifth wave subsides across Canada and public health restrictions are set to lift, infectious disease experts and epidemiologists say two-dose mandates are no longer sufficient — and mandating boosters is not a realistic approach.

That’s because while two doses are still effective at preventing severe illness, the highly transmissible Omicron variant has rendered them less protective against infection and transmission to others than with previous coronavirus strains.

But recent research from Canada and around the world has shown there is substantially more protection against Omicron infection with a third dose — and that boosters are significantly more effective against severe illness than with two doses alone.

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