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Mandatory vaccine policy suggested by federal health minister could be difficult to implement: ethicist


The federal health minister has suggested provinces look at making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory to help protect their health care systems but the move has some questioning how such a policy would work.

Some European countries have already announced vaccines will be compulsory for certain age groups.

While Manitoba has proof of immunization requirements, some think a broader mandate would be difficult from both a practical and ethical standpoint.

“They might impose fines. Fines would be one of the main things because so far what we’ve done is exclude people and so to force people I think is a real difficult challenge for governments,” said Neil McArthur, director of the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics.

McArthur noted population-wide vaccine mandates are rare and that while they may be justified in extreme circumstances such a move would mean violating the ethical principle of informed consent for medical procedures.

“I think to force people through mandatory vaccinations really risks alienating those people and even alienating some people who have been vaccinated who may object to this on principle,” McArthur said.

On the streets of Winnipeg, the suggestion from the federal health minister was met with support but also questions about how well it would work.

“It makes sense to make it more mandatory but it might be harder to implement,” said Eme Awuyah.

Paige Walker suggested following Quebec’s plan to make vaccines mandatory for people to enter provincially-run liquor and cannabis stores might be more effective to boost rates than making vaccines mandatory for certain age groups.

“If people don’t want to get vaccinated I think that they’re still just not going to get vaccinated,” Walker said.

In Manitoba, proof of immunization is already required to access bars, restaurants and gyms, to play and watch sports and take part in certain indoor activities and gatherings.

But with cases and hospitalizations rising amid the spread of omicron in both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said Friday broader mandates, like those introduced in some European countries, may be needed.

“The only way that we know to go through COVID-19, this variant and any future variant is through vaccination,” Duclos said.

While people who are immunized can still get infected, health officials say vaccination is the best way to prevent against severe outcomes and hospitalization.

Italy has made vaccination mandatory for people over 50 to ease pressure on health services and prevent deaths. Greece and Austria also plan to implement broader mandates.

So far, 76 per cent of Canada’s total population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In Manitoba, 78 per cent of eligible people have been fully immunized with two doses while 30 per cent of people have three doses.

The premiers of Saskatchewan and Alberta have each rejected the idea of vaccine mandates.

A request for comment Monday from the Manitoba Government on the issue was not immediately returned. Top Stories

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