Complex challenges mean mandatory COVID-19 vaccine unlikely: experts

Complex challenges mean mandatory COVID-19 vaccine unlikely: experts

There are no truly mandatory vaccines in Canada

While the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars to develop and test potential vaccines for COVID-19, experts say mandatory vaccination is unlikely given the difficult practical and ethical problems that would entail.

“A vaccine will be extremely important to getting back to normal,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday, adding that effective treatment could help us get there too.

A recent poll conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 60 per cent of respondents believe people should be required to get the vaccine once it’s ready, although that is likely to be many months away.

READ MORE: Should a vaccine for COVID-19 be made mandatory in Canada, once it’s created?

It’s understandable people feel that way, said vaccine expert Dr. Noni MacDonald, but mandatory vaccines are a complicated proposition.

There are no truly mandatory vaccines in Canada. While provinces like Ontario and New Brunswick require children to be vaccinated in order to attend school, there are exemptions for medical and ideological reasons.

For adults, the only Canadian precedent for mandatory vaccines is for medical workers who must be immunized against certain diseases to protect themselves and their patients, MacDonald said.

“What’s your consequences for not doing it if you make it mandatory?” said MacDonald, a professor with the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University. “What’s your penalty? Or what’s your incentive?”

Those questions are more complex than they appear, and can lead policy-makers down a rabbit hole.

Australia tried to convince parents to immunize their children by making certain tax benefits contingent on those vaccinations, MacDonald said.

“The group that it really harmed was the very low-income people who had to take time off work to get their child immunized,” she said. ”And they got a double whammy. They not only didn’t get their child immunized, which meant they couldn’t go to daycare or go to school, but they also didn’t get the child tax credit.”

Ethically speaking, the government would have to make sure not to unduly penalize people who don’t get the vaccine.

Policy-makers also have to worry about a backlash, said Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate professor with the University of Alberta who specializes in law and bioethics.

“The reason why we should probably not raise the question of mandatory vaccination in relation to COVID-19 is because it’s deeply controversial,” Ogbogu said.

There is usually vehement opposition to mandatory vaccination, at least by small but vocal groups who worry about the safety of vaccines and government infringement on their liberties.

Those people are likely to be even more concerned about a rapidly developed vaccine, he said.

“The last thing you want is for (a vaccine) to become available, and then we spend a lot of time fighting over whether it should be mandatory or not, when I think people are going to want it,” he said. ”I think what we’re going to have is the opposite issue.”

READ MORE: Normal life won’t fully return until COVID-19 vaccine developed, Trudeau says

The question of whether to make the vaccine mandatory assumes there will be enough to go around, which both experts agree is doubtful.

It’s difficult to know what the uptake in an eventual vaccine will be, said chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

“Sometimes it’s quite an emotional reaction,” she said Saturday.

“I recall in the last pandemic when you’d get an increase in deaths, for example, people will suddenly want to take up the vaccine very fast when you don’t have enough to go around.”

The more likely ethical quandary for policy-makers will involve figuring out how to distribute a limited supply of the vaccine in a way that is fair and effective.

That will depend on how knowledge of the vaccine and the disease develops.

Influenza, for example, spreads rampantly among kids who are in school so it’s important to boost their immunity. But it’s not clear if the same is true of COVID-19, MacDonald said. It may be that health-care workers should be the first to receive the vaccine, or people who work in long-term care homes.

To make matters more complicated, with several vaccines in development the successful candidates may be more effective in some populations than others.

Those are all factors that will have to be sorted out as the government works toward rolling out a vaccine in Canada.

The federal and provincial governments are going to have to make “extremely important decisions,” about how to achieve the optimal level of vaccination, Trudeau said Tuesday, and those decisions will be informed by research.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elkhart Gas Station, located on Highway 97C about 60 kilometres west of Peachland, opened in November 2020. (Google maps)
The Okanagan Connector now has a gas station

The highway previously ran for over 117 kilometres without a place to fuel up

A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov - AFP)
Interior Health reports 66 new COVID-19 infections

570 cases are active; 18 in hospital

The real estate market is brisk in the South Okanagan, with home prices increasing according to November, 2020 statistics. (Contributed)
House prices rise while supply is limited in South Okanagan

Real estate market active, according to November statistics from South Okanagan Real Estate Board

Send your letter to the editor via email to news@summerlandreview.com. Please included your first and last name, address, and phone number.
LETTER: Wear a mask for the benefit of all

If this virus latches onto one of your cells, it takes over the RNA and DNA and makes you sick

(Google Maps)
Osoyoos Credit Union staff member tests positive for COVID-19

The credit union made the announcement Dec. 1

An Enderby restaurant and pub was shut down Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, 2020 as a precaution after a guest reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. (Howard Johnson photo)
North Okanagan pub reopens after COVID-19 scare

After a guest reportedly tested positive for the virus, staff test results came back negative

Alix Longland
Trauma resources ready for North Okanagan refugees

Family Resource Centre working with UBCO social work grad to reach out to local refugees

The Hughes’ Grinch was stolen from their front yard Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Santa suit the Grinch is wearing is 50 years old and has sentimental value. It was once worn by April Hughes’ dad. (Hughes photo)
Grinch stolen from Penticton home is ‘irreplaceable’

The Hughes have had a Christmas display for 25 years on Grandy Avenue in Penticton

Midway RCMP’s Cpl. Phil Peters spoke at Greenwood’s city council meeting Monday, Nov. 23. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
B.C. Mountie builds fire to warm suspect with hypothermia prior to rescue

Cpl. Phil Peters said the civilian helped police track, apprehend and eventually rescue the suspect

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Revelstoke COVID-19 cluster linked to non-essential travel: Horgan

There have been 46 cases of COVID-19 in the community

Students at Lavington Elementary crammed a car full of non-perishables for those in the community facing food insecurity. Spearheaded by teacher January Peebles (left), the donations were picked up by Give LUCK founder Myrika Godard, who works to connect donors with donees in the North Okanagan. (Give LUCK photo)
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

Most Read