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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Annual music event in Comox Valley celebrates online instead

Vancouver Island MusicFest holds virtual celebration set for July 10

Cumberland wants more done to stop drug deaths

Motions include writing Dr. Bonnie Henry, holding naloxone workshop

Courtenay theatre gets support for livestream ‘hybrid’ shows this year

Island Coastal Economic Trust funds help Sid Williams Theatre with infrastructure, training

Military police training in Comox Valley

Latest quarterly session for training is July 6-8

Solar, seismic work among Comox Valley school district requests

District also wants to get a new roof on top of Mark R. Isfeld Secondary

QUIZ: A celebration of dogs

These are the dog days of summer. How much do you know about dogs?

Police ramp up efforts to get impaired drivers off B.C. roads this summer

July is dedicated to the Summer CounterAttack Impaired Driving Campaign

Migrant workers stage multi-city action for full status amid COVID-19 risks

‘COVID-19 has exacerbated an existing crisis’

Okanagan school drops ‘Rebels’ sports team name, citing links with U.S. Civil War

Name and formerly-used images “fly in the face” of the district’s human rights policy, says board chair

PHOTOS: B.C.’s top doc picks up personalized Fluevog shoes, tours mural exhibition

Murals of Gratitude exhibit includes at least one portrait of Henry alongside paintings of health-care workers

In troubled times: Independence Day in a land of confusion

Buffeted by invisible forces and just plain worn out, the United States of America celebrates its 244th birthday

Stop enforcing sex work laws during COVID-19, advocates say

There are provisions in Canada’s prostitution laws that make workers immune from prosecution, but not from arrest

Liberal party finished 2019 having spent $43 million, raised $42 million

All political parties had until midnight June 30 to submit their financial reports for last year

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Most Read