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

Nakota Hinksman had been reported missing in Abbotsford, but has since been located.
UPDATE: Missing teen with autism has been located in Abbotsford

Nakota Hinksman, 18, had been missing since 3:20 a.m. on Tuesday

Eva Pucci Couture in this file shot from May 29, 2019, when she came to Chilliwack asking for the public’s help in locating her missing son, Kristofer Shawn Couture. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Missing man’s mom still hopeful, 2 years after his car was found abandoned at Chilliwack trail

‘I wish someone would come forward with insight into your whereabouts,’ pleads mom of missing man

Abbotsford tattoo artist Tanya Loewen has entered the Inked cover girl contest.
Abbotsford mother, tattoo artist enters Inked cover girl contest

Tanya Loewen, tattoo artist at Van Bree Tattoo, hoping to win big in magazine contest

District of Kent farmers brought truckloads of used plastic to the Schwichtenburg farm Oct. 26, 2018, for pickup by Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling, a grassroots, farmer-initiated organization that collects and distributes used plastics for recycling. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)
Agassiz’s agricultural plastics program heading to the dump, unless province steps in

Kent Agricultural Plastics Recycling has nowhere to go, hopes B.C. will create a recycling program

Chilliwack Law Courts. (Black Press file)
Man sentenced to 20 months for sexual interference in Mission

Will Laws Clark was 22 and victim was 13 at time offences began

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
RCMP appeal for witnesses after hit-and-run leaves girl, 17, in critical condition

The Metro Vancouver teenager was found unconscious and critically injured after being hit: police

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

Most Read