Denley: Mandatory vaccination carries its own risks

This is a situation where relative injuries must be weighed against each other. Mandatory immunization will reduce the number of workers available to provide important public services, such as health care or police.

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Mandatory vaccination of certain groups of civil servants could have been a rational policy when it started, but it has become a punitive overreaction to limited risk. It’s time we all stepped back and asked who’s really hurt by mandatory vaccinations.

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Simply put, which seems to be the most popular option, mandatory vaccination makes complete sense. Why should the public or employees bear the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 because a nurse, police officer, teacher, or OC Transpo driver refuses to be vaccinated? Threatening vaccine-hesitant with loss of salary or even loss of their job is definitely the smart way to ensure that everyone else is protected.

Unfortunately, the threat has only been partially effective. The city has already lost hundreds of desperately needed health workers. It will lose teachers and other school staff. It will ultimately lose police officers because of the new mandatory policy introduced last week after Mayor Jim Watson insisted that anyone taking a public check must be fully vaccinated. Just the day before, the municipality extended the deadline for other employees by two weeks, partly due to concerns about losing bus drivers. It was a nice illustration of the conflict between a rigid policy and the real need to get the job done.

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This is a situation where relative damage must be weighed against each other, not something we together have excelled at since the pandemic began. Mandatory vaccination policies will reduce the number of workers available to provide essential public services, reduce those services and harm those who lose wages or their jobs. In contrast, there is the perceived reduction in risk, which will come from having more jobs fully vaccinated.

But how much risk reduction will there actually be? Public Health Ontario says 10,840,016 Ontarians have been fully vaccinated between December last year and October 17 this year. Of that number, only 12,694 have received COVID. That is just 0.11 per cent.

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If we want to see how this horrific level of risk plays out in real time, just look around. With the exception of healthcare professionals, most unvaccinated public sector employees are still at work because deadlines have not yet been met or extended. In particular, the police do not exactly treat the vaccination situation as a 9-1-1 call. Their new mandatory vaccination policy has a deadline of January 31, 2022.

So no matter what harm the unvaccinated do, they do it right now. And yet, the number of active cases and hospitalizations in Ottawa has been flat for several months. Outbreaks appear to be exacerbated during pregnancy. Of course, something can be done to change that, but as long as vaccines remain effective, that is unlikely.

Instead of acting on the empirical evidence, our local politicians and public sector leaders seize the opportunity to speak out and position themselves as advocates of evasive 100 percent security. Ottawa Hospital has raised this to the level of a “moral obligation.”

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The unvaccinated are certainly an appealing target. If you have made the wise decision to protect yourself from COVID, it’s hard to understand why someone else would not. It seems like a selfish and irrational decision, but even some educated people in responsible jobs make it. That is the reality that needs to be dealt with.

There is a middle ground. It is the one prescribed by the provincial government and taken by the Ottawa police before the politicians got involved. It’s pretty simple: Get vaccinated, give a doctor’s statement about why you can not, or get tested every 72 hours. The provincial government left the door open for employers to demand more, but it has been reluctant to do so itself. Referring to concerns about the shortage of workers, it has not made vaccination compulsory for all health workers or teachers.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has spent too much time making things mandatory and not thinking enough about the cost of its rules compared to the benefits. Nineteen months into all of this, it’s time to get a little bit smarter.

Randall Denley is a political commentator and author in Ottawa. Contact him at randalldenley1@gmail.com.

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