Time to change the script on vaccines

I wrote an opinion piece in today’s Spec. You can read it here.

As well as here:

It’s Time to Change the Script on Vaccines

The unity of our resolve to defeat COVID-19 has disappeared. It is safe to say, we are a divided society. The vaccinated on one side of the line, the anti-vaxxed on the other. The size of this division is seemingly insurmountable. Facts don’t seem to matter in this fight. The vaccines we have are our best line of defense to permanently lifting lockdown restrictions and enabling our economy and society to function normally. Yet a sizeable minority of the population refuse to embrace them, out of misinformation and fear.

For a while it was presumed that we could achieve a sufficient vaccination rate through education and strong public health messaging. However, as we look west to Alberta, we see that is not the case. The failure of a large enough size of their population to get the vaccine, is putting their entire health care system at risk. This is what many of us in Canada feared might happen from the start. We can’t afford to let this happen elsewhere. The question remains though, how do we encourage the reluctant to get vaccinated?

The answer might lay in another public awareness campaign that shifted public attitudes away from another social scourge. A generation ago, the decision to drive while intoxicated was viewed much the same as being unvaccinated is today. A personal decision. If Person A wanted to have a few too many at a party or at a restaurant then drive home, it was unwise, but it was considered their decision. They might make it home unscathed, or they might get into an accident. Whatever happened was a consequence of their decision and their responsibility alone. Only, that wasn’t the reality. Innocent bystanders, who had no say in the person’s decision were impacted. Often horrifically when accidents claimed families. Change finally happened with public awareness of the impacts drunk driving had on society. Organizations such as MADD petitioned governments to pass stricter laws, and had awareness campaigns to alert the public to the dangers of driving impaired. Overtime attitudes towards drunk driving have shifted from a personal choice, into one of a social responsibility. Today we have RIDE checks on our public roadways, and liability laws for restaurants and bars to extend the responsibility to them as well. Ask any one today at a party or out at a restaurant and it’s socially acceptable to have someone be a designated driver, or to have plans for a sober driver to take them home.

The similarities to our vaccination problem today are there. The view of vaccines is that of a personal choice. However, it is not. There are still many who are unable to be vaccinated due to their age or a legitimate medical condition. Choosing to not be vaccinated, is putting them at risk. Much as a drunk driver might put everyone at risk once they get behind the wheel. It is time for our government leadership to reframe this debate and start to enact laws and regulations that reinforce the responsibility of all of us to take this seriously.

Vaccine passports are a terrific first step in this campaign. More needs to be done though. Much like how establishments that serve alcohol cannot serve underage minors, or serve anyone to the point of intoxication, we can bring in similar regulations with the passports. Currently, some restaurants are opting to not recognise the passport. The consequences of this decision are currently murky. The province should treat this much like a situation of the same establishment violating liquor laws. Violation of passport mandates ought to result in the removal of their business license. Changes to their liability should also ensue. Should a restaurant be known to not enforce vaccine passports and an outbreak is traced to their restaurant, the owner and business are on the hook. This is like existing alcohol laws for a license and yet no one says it is an overreach for the business owner or patron’s freedom.

Accompanying this with a public awareness campaign advocating the vaccination program not as a personal choice but as a social responsibility would be the second step to encourage vaccination rates to go up. We have seemingly hit a wall in our vaccination rates in Canada. Many eligible Canadians have their shots. It is unwise to let a vocal minority put the recovery at risk. It is time for our leadership to show they have the backs of the vaccinated in Canada.

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