Want to boost immunization rate? Make vaccines mandatory

The number of Manitobans willing to get immunized with the COVID-19 vaccine has dropped off so dramatically in recent weeks, it could take until late December to get enough people fully vaccinated to return to normal life. It may take longer if uptake continues to dwindle.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The number of Manitobans willing to get immunized with the COVID-19 vaccine has dropped off so dramatically in recent weeks, it could take until late December to get enough people fully vaccinated to return to normal life. It may take longer if uptake continues to dwindle.

The only solution now is to make vaccines mandatory in as many public places as possible and to mandate them for employees in health care and education.

Manitobans were eager to roll up their sleeves in the early stages of the vaccine rollout, with over 20,000 doses administered some days in June. That dropped off in July and has fallen sharply to about 3,000 doses a day in August. Most of those are people getting their second shot. The number of people stepping up for their first dose has slowed to a trickle.

Only 64 per cent of the total population has received both doses.

Almost three-quarters of Manitobans over 12 are now fully immunized. However, only 64 per cent of the total population has received both doses (children born after Dec. 31, 2009 remain ineligible for the vaccine).

That’s nowhere near the threshold experts believe is required to return to normal life. The benchmark has been pegged at about 85 to 90 per cent of the total population.

The proportion of Manitobans with both shots grew by over seven percentage points a week in June. It fell to less than five percentage points a week in July. In August, it has plummeted to just over one percentage point per week. At that rate, it would take until Christmas to reach 85 per cent. If uptake continues to decline as it has in recent weeks, it could be January or February before Manitoba hits that benchmark, if it reaches it at all.

A small uptick is expected in the fall once Health Canada approves COVID-19 vaccines for children under 12. However, with the proportion of Manitobans getting their first shot now climbing by less than half a percentage point a week, the likelihood of fully immunizing 85 per cent of Manitobans by the end of 2021 without further vaccine incentives is remote.

Manitoba has been a leader in developing vaccine cards for the fully immunized. Unfortunately, the province reversed mandatory vaccination rules enacted earlier this summer to access movie theatres, museums and art galleries. It kept the restrictions in place for large sporting events, casinos and bingo halls. But instead of expanding the list, the province inexplicably relaxed those rules, even as the more contagious Delta variant threatens to drive up cases and hospitalizations.

The long-term solution is to restrict access to as many public places as possible to those with vaccine cards, including non-essential businesses such as bars, restaurants, recreational facilities and gyms.

That decision was made worse by the Pallister government’s ill-advised move to drop mandatory masks in indoor public places (which should be reversed immediately, including for schools when classes resume in September).

COVID-19 cases are not climbing in Manitoba, but they are in almost every other province. Without further measures, they will likely increase here, too.

The long-term solution is to restrict access to as many public places as possible to those with vaccine cards, including non-essential businesses such as bars, restaurants, recreational facilities and gyms. The requirement should be reinstated for movie theatres, museums and art galleries and made mandatory for all students and faculty at post-secondary institutions. All employees in public schools, including teachers, should also be fully immunized as a condition of employment. The same should apply to health-care staff, who are at high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. It appears this may be the only way to encourage enough people to get vaccinated to reach the 85 to 90 per cent mark.

People have a right not to get vaccinated if they choose, but those choices come with consequences. The alternative — allowing the virus to circulate widely, resulting in severe illness and triggering renewed business shutdowns — is not an option.

Vaccinating two-thirds, or even three-quarters, of the population won’t end the pandemic. It would leave hundreds of thousands of Manitobans unvaccinated and allow the Delta variant (and possibly new, more contagious variants in the future) to circulate widely and drive up hospitalization rates again. There is a safe and effective solution to avoid that. It’s time to use it.

People have a right not to get vaccinated if they choose, but those choices come with consequences.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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