This commentary is outdated and is retained for its historical record. It should be considered in concert with my update posted here on October 12, 2021.
As I mentioned in a recent commentary – I would have been one of the people that waited a little longer before getting vaccinated for COVID-19 since governments around the world have done a terrible job of helping regular folks understand the safety of the vaccines and the risks of being unvaccinated.
Freedom of Choice – Individuals
I went ahead and got vaccinated as soon as I was eligible for three reasons. First, the results of my own research tilts towards the benefits of vaccination to be greater than the risks for me personally. Second, when you add in the benefit to society if everyone who is eligible gets vaccinated the case is almost indisputable. Third, the government is blackmailing me by saying that I can’t go on with my life until 70% of us are double vaccinated – although as we approach that percentage they might be upping the threshold since as I mentioned in the commentary on Herd Immunity – no one really knows what percentage we need to reach to win the war.
I still respect each individual’s right to decide the balance in the risk of side effects from the vaccine vs the risk of contracting COVID-19 and the damage they might suffer. With that said, with the thesis that the coronavirus will be with us forever and it’s only a matter of time until everyone is exposed, my reading suggests that even for teenagers and young adults the risk of the side effects is still less than the risk of actually getting COVID-19 which, although rarely, still kills some of our young. Increasingly, articles are appearing with parents lamenting the death of their child and their hesitancy over having that child vaccinated. There are no do-overs after death.
Discussing my adherence to individual freedom with my sister, she challenged me by asking if it isn’t reasonable to ask everyone to take a small risk individually for what all the evidence says is a massive benefit to society of having virtually all of us vaccinated? It was a good question. When I first wrote about lockdowns, I made the bold statement that when valuing life, if forced to choose I would save my son before my mother. I am sure this statement makes some readers uncomfortable – but these are choices that we sometimes face. At this point I think the new paradigm should be that we each need to take a small risk individually for the greater good of the world population. There are some among us that on the advice of medical professionals should not get vaccinated. The rest of us should.
Freedom of Choice – Business
I just went to see my mom after a 16-month absence. I am now double-vaccinated + 14 days and if it isn’t safe to go now it never will be. At age 87, I wasn’t prepared to wait another year or more to visit. My long absence was largely driven by my fear that it would be hard to live with myself if I were the one that brought COVID to her home and any of the 180 residents died as a result. There are a lot of rules when you go to visit, including an on-the-spot 15-minute COVID test. Although inconvenient I fully respect her home’s right to setup rules that they think are in the best interest of their residents and their workers and frankly I appreciate the effort they are making to protect mom and her roommates.
As we start to focus on return to work, return to indoor dining, and returning to the gym and other forms of recreation, many businesses are now confronting decisions about the requirements that they will impose on workers and customers for vaccines, masks, distancing, etc. Let me remind everyone that these are not easy decisions and there is often no right answer. Efforts to protect staff can be an inconvenience to customers – and in a gym setting, respecting one customer is offending another.
Many businesses are driven around culture as well as employment law. One pillar of employment is providing workers with a safe environment and another is respect for privacy. Case law allows certain employers such as hospitals to demand that all employees get vaccinated. I am not sure that every employer could defend such a requirement. I am sure the courts will be asked to decide where the line can be drawn.
It is my understanding however, that a business can require that its customers be vaccinated, wear a mask, distance, or any other such measure they deem appropriate. They don’t even have to believe it helps – just that in the war for customers they are making rules that will allow the business to succeed. Of course, at a minimum, they have to continue to enforce the rules required by government – which will continue to evolve as we travel through the various ‘stages’ of reopening.
It was my understanding that the provinces were working with Health Canada to develop vaccine passports for Canadians. The simple logic is that folks that are vaccinated pose a lower risk to others and should be given greater freedoms. However, on July 15, 2021, Doug Ford came out and said that Ontario would not be introducing vaccine passports because “We’re not gonna have a split society”.
Sorry Dougie – we already have a split society – those that want safety above freedom and those that want freedom above safety. Your decision doesn’t help bring anyone together. Ironically, the seemly endless lockdowns and restrictions in Ontario have for many of us appeared to have tilted too far towards safety and away from freedom. So, putting a flag in the ground for freedom by not creating vaccine passports is an almost meaningless token at this stage.
There are some tough decisions ahead for employers – one being discussed is the idea of saying that employees that choose not to be vaccinated continue to wear masks while the vaccinated can forgo the hassle. While I think such a policy will be awkward, it might be the legally safest choice between respecting one employee’s freedom (or medical need) to choose not to get vaccinated with the obligation to create a safe environment for other workers.
Business needs two things from government right now. First, privacy laws should be amended to be clear that an employee’s vaccination status can be shared with other employees and customers. This is what the majority of society needs and expects at this point. The second is vaccine passports. Without such a tool, businesses will be left to devise their own screening of incoming customers which will be inefficient and susceptible to fraud. If the fight against the COVID-19 virus justified a massive infringement on personal freedoms for the past 18 months – then sharing your vaccination status using vaccine passports is a very small price to ask.