Rupa Subramanya: Liberals slow to realize vaccine mandates are past their best by date

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Time for the Trudeau government to end its vaccine mandate for federal employees

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At a press conference on Oct. 6, 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced mandatory vaccination in federally regulated workplaces and sectors, including for passengers boarding a plane or a train. Trudeau said his government’s two-dose vaccine mandates for travellers and for federal government employees, who continued to work from home, were amongst the “strongest in the world.”

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The Trudeau government justified the mandates by stating that mandatory vaccinations would “reduce the risk of COVID-19, prevent future outbreaks, and better protect the health of Canadians.” Freeland said vaccines “prevent the spread of COVID-19; they significantly reduce the severity of cases, and, most importantly, they save lives.”

From these and similar statements made by Trudeau, his ministers, and officials, it’s abundantly clear that the Trudeau government was, principally, referring to vaccines reducing transmission of the virus from person to person, and, secondarily, that vaccines would reduce the severity of the disease and the risk of mortality. At the time of the announcement in October 2021, approximately 89 per cent of eligible Canadians had received one vaccine dose and around 82 per cent of those eligible had received both doses, according to Freeland.

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  1. Ontario Premier Doug Ford, shown here putting his mask back on after a December press conference at Queen's Park in Toronto.

    Rupa Subramanya: Doug Ford must resist COVID zero zealots

  2. None

    Matt Gurney: Liberals reach for another vaccine mandate

The federal government’s vaccine mandates were implemented before the discovery of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which has proven to be a game changer. The new variant has proven to be more adept than the original virus or the deadly Delta variant at “evading” immunity acquired through vaccination or natural immunity acquired through infection. Considering that Omicron generally leads to a higher infection rate, given its greater transmissibility, yet also to less severe symptoms than earlier variants, many jurisdictions around the world that had imposed stringent vaccine mandates have rethought them, along with a rethink of the role of mask mandates and of lockdowns.

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Most Canadian provinces, excluding British Columbia and Newfoundland, have cancelled vaccine mandates for their own employees, as well as for restaurant dining and so forth, and all have cancelled mask mandates for most locations. The government of Canada is a notable exception in the advanced world in thus far having failed to rethink its vaccine mandate for federal employees.

For example, Austria suspended a controversial mandate in early March that it had introduced in mid-February but had promised to not start enforcing for a month. That law would have made vaccinations mandatory for everyone, with fines running as high as €3,600 or nearly $5,000. Despite a surge in infections in March, even “COVID-zero” New Zealand announced, effective April 4, the ending of vaccine mandates for teachers, police officers and members of its military, while continuing to require vaccination for workers in the health sector, those caring for the elderly, and for those working in the prison sector.

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Even ‘COVID-zero’ New Zealand ended mandates

It’s noteworthy that these two countries were at very different rates of full vaccination when they cancelled (or largely cancelled) their mandates: Austria was at about 70 per cent and New Zealand at a very high 95 per cent. Compare this to Canada, which, at the time of the vaccine mandate announcement in the fall of 2021, was already sitting at about 82 per cent of people fully vaccinated. In other words, when Canada imposed its mandates, more of the population was already fully vaccinated than in Austria, when it ditched its mandates.

What’s more, Canada, unlike many European countries, never recognized proof of recovery from infection as a legitimate alternative to vaccination. The number of people involved is not trivial. According to a Canadian Blood Services report for March 2022, an estimated 30 per cent of unvaccinated blood donors showed evidence that they had been recently infected by COVID-19, while 18 per cent of vaccinated donors had evidence of recent infection. According to the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, about 30 per cent of all blood donors by the end of March showed infection-acquired seropositivity and a recent serosurvey by Héma-Québec estimated that more than 25 per cent of adults in the province had antibodies acquired through infection during the first Omicron wave ending in March.

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It’s clear to everyone, apparently except the federal government of Canada, that vaccine mandates based on the original two-dose vaccine regimen were never meant to be permanent. Countries and sub-national jurisdictions that imposed vaccine mandates, therefore, periodically reviewed them, and, as we’ve seen, many countries are now getting rid of them altogether, based on the already high rate of vaccination and the latest scientific evidence based on the now dominant Omicron variant.

Vaccine mandates … were never meant to be permanent

Most obviously, it is well established that vaccine effectiveness wanes over time, and, since most Canadians received their second dose sometime in the summer or fall of 2021, the effectiveness of the two-dose regimen that the government mandated is now very low. There is little made-in-Canada evidence to speak to this, but, in its latest surveillance report, dated May 12, the UK Health Security Agency, a public health agency tasked with protecting public health from the impacts of infectious diseases, shows that after two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant drops to “no effect” within 25 weeks after the second dose. Similarly, with two doses of Pfizer or Moderna, vaccine effectiveness went from around 65 to 70 per cent after the second dose to as low as 15 per cent by 25 weeks. Further, two to four weeks after the third or “booster” dose of either Pfizer or Moderna, vaccine effectiveness ranged from 60 to 75 per cent, but then plunged dramatically to having no effect whatever after 20 or more weeks.

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Unless the federal government is contemplating mandating the third and subsequent booster doses, putting Canadians on a never-ending carousel of vaccination, it’s clear that the utility of the vaccine mandates based on the original two doses has now run its course. No advanced western country has thus far mandated boosters, and even the Canadian government, which loves mandates, hasn’t talked about it. Many experts believe that fourth and subsequent booster doses are unnecessary for most normal healthy people and shouldn’t be mandated. What we have left now are meaningless vaccine mandates based on the original two doses. It’s time for them to be scrapped, period.

National Post

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