Premier Brian Pallister, who has urged everyone who's eligible to get a shot, says two of his MLAs who haven't been vaccinated have no obligation to inform the public.
"I’m not going to be talking about personal health details with anyone; that’s the choice of every Manitoban," he said Wednesday.
On Monday, the Free Press revealed two PC MLAs, including a cabinet minister, have not had both vaccine doses. The party refused to name them or specify whether either had received just one shot, citing privacy.
Five MLAs, including one cabinet minister, did not reply to the Free Press request this week, which opposition leaders deemed hypocritical.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler’s press secretary, his Springfield-Ritchot constituency office and the PC cabinet ignored queries about his vaccination status.
The Free Press received no response from the office of Janice Morley-Lecomte (Seine River).
The office of Alan Lagimodiere (Selkirk) also did not respond, though he has posted on social media about the importance of getting vaccinated.
Meanwhile, Andrew Micklefield and Bob Lagassé have both posted to social media about getting one vaccine dose, but their offices did not respond to multiple queries as to whether they got the second dose.
Manitoba officials say it’s imperative all Manitobans who can get vaccinated receive both shots, due to the rise of more infectious COVID-19 variants.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said MLAs who have a medical reason that prevents them from getting vaccinated, should make that fact public.
"If the government is asking Manitobans, who are able, to get double-vaccinated if they want to fully participate in our society, is that going to be the same standard for MLAs?" Kinew asked. "Will they be able to go into the chamber, or go to various events?"
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont linked a refusal to get vaccinated with Manitoba’s brutal second and third waves of COVID-19.
"There are people in the premier's caucus who don't believe the pandemic is serious, (who) don't believe in vaccines, and don't believe in public health, period," he said. "That kind of thinking — the fact the premier is not willing to confront it — is one of the reasons why we've had such a disastrous pandemic response."
Political analyst Paul Thomas noted that Pallister entered politics specifically to fight government intrusion, and built his base on that platform.
"In an emergency, the government acquires a great deal of power over individuals — and this goes against the grain for a person like Brian Pallister," said Thomas, a University of Manitoba professor emeritus.
The premier framed the lack of disclosure from his MLAs as a matter of freedom.
"We’ve respected that choice and that right of every Manitoban to make decisions with their own body from the outset; we’re going to continue to," Pallister said Wednesday. "We’re going to do everything we can to encourage Manitobans to make the choice of getting a vaccination, and then getting another one."
Thomas said this fits a pattern in which the PC government has urged Manitobans to lean on personal responsibility and follow the spirit of guidelines to contain the risk of COVID-19, instead of implementing stricter measures, as demanded by medical professionals.
"You have a premier who's not been a strong spokesperson for some of these rules; he's been inconsistent at best and not fully truthful about what should be done and what is being done," Thomas said.
He said Canadians expect elected officials to share a fair amount of personal information, but normally anything pertaining to health is off-limits. This may have changed during the pandemic, Thomas said, because leaders have taken away freedom and imposed rules such as mask mandates.
Thomas also said vaccination has become a political-identity issue, making it a touchy matter in rural parts of Manitoba.
"People in urban settings are better educated, see themselves as being more sophisticated — whether that's true or not — so they're more prepared to be led by science and evidence perhaps than people in rural communities, particularly socially homogenous communities," he said.
"There's a lot of peer pressure out there to go along with the community."