Editorial

Manitoba’s top doctor made an important statement this week about the province’s vaccine mandate. It’s one the provincial government should communicate more forcefully.

Manitoba’s top doctor made an important statement this week about the province’s vaccine mandate. It’s one the provincial government should communicate more forcefully.

When asked by the Free Press Monday during a news conference what the minimum implementation period would be for Manitoba’s proof-of-vaccine rules, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said it would likely be in force until at least the spring.

"It’s tough to say for sure, but I think we have to expect that this would carry us through the typical respiratory virus season — so through winter into spring," said Dr. Roussin.

Manitoba vaccine mandate to remain for months

Click to Expand
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, speaks during a COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Roussin says a public health order requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to get into restaurants, professional sporting events and concert venues is likely to be in place through the winter and into next spring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, speaks during a COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. Roussin says a public health order requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to get into restaurants, professional sporting events and concert venues is likely to be in place through the winter and into next spring. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Posted: 4:20 PM Oct. 18, 2021

WINNIPEG - Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine mandate is likely to remain in place until at least the spring, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday, so that the health-care system can handle both the ongoing pandemic and the traditional flu season.

"We review all these things all the time. But I think, given the state of our health-care system and the demands the respiratory virus season will be likely to put on it, it's very likely we'll have to take (the mandate) through this winter," Roussin told reporters.

Read Full Story

It was the first time he, or anyone from the provincial government, put a minimum timeline on how long Manitoba’s proof-of-vaccination rules — including those for health-care workers, public school employees and people entering public places such as bars, restaurants and entertainment facilities — would be in place.

It’s a crucial message. It not only gives businesses and not-for-profit organizations some certainty about the rules over the next four to five months (allowing them to plan), it may also encourage some fence-sitters who have not yet been vaccinated to roll up their sleeves and get the shot. The more people know this mandate is not going away any time soon, the more likely they may be to get vaccinated.

It’s a long winter to be stuck at home without access to public amenities most Manitobans are enjoying again.

With influenza season just around the corner (and the likely pressure it will put on the province’s already strained health-care system), the vaccine mandate will be critical in helping protect hospital capacity this winter, Dr. Roussin said. Even with relatively low case counts, there have been close to 100 COVID-19 patients in Manitoba hospitals most days in October (the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated).

It is manageable, but it wouldn’t take much — including an influx of patients with respiratory illnesses — to force hospitals to cancel elective surgeries again to free up medical beds.

There is compelling evidence that the province’s proof-of-vaccination policy is helping contain the spread of COVID-19. The requirement to show a vaccine QR code to enter most non-essential indoor public places has been in effect for nearly two months. Since then, the hospitality, entertainment and cultural sectors have returned to near-normal operations.

People are physically interacting again in large numbers. Because they are fully vaccinated (and wearing masks indoors most of the time), the transmission of the virus has been minimal.

It has been more than three weeks since the Winnipeg Jets opened Canada Life Centre to near-capacity crowds. So far, public-health officials have found no evidence of significant transmission at those events.

COVID-19 case counts have ticked up somewhat in Manitoba since early September. However, the increases have been largely concentrated in areas with relatively low vaccine uptake, including in the Southern Health region. Case counts in Winnipeg, where vaccine uptake is the highest in the province, have been stable.

Manitoba’s vaccine mandate could extend beyond the spring and into the summer if public-health officials deem it necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19. That assessment will be made at the appropriate time. In the meantime, the province should issue regular bulletins to the public that vaccine mandates will be in force at least until the spring. That message should be communicated loudly and often.