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Vaccinations are the silver bullet to end COVID-19. In fact, they are the only thing to protect our businesses, families, and communities. Around the world, including Canada, virtually all new COVID deaths and hospitalizations are occurring among unvaccinated people. Where vaccines are available, there is no reason that anyone 12 or older should get sick or contract COVID-19.
The challenge for Canadian governments across the country this summer is to ensure as many Canadians as possible obtain a vaccine so we can safely open our economy. This imperative leads to the debate of whether vaccinations should be mandatory.
And with nearly a quarter of the eligible population in Canada still completely unvaccinated against COVID-19, the debate over whether to make vaccines mandatory has intensified. Canada is among the most vaccinated countries in the world with 80 per cent of those eligible having received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 57 per cent fully vaccinated. However, we remain short of the estimated 80 to 90 per cent of eligible people needed to be fully immunized to keep the infection under control. Even with these high levels of vaccination, the Delta variant is taking root amongst the unvaccinated.
To increase vaccination rates, many employers have proposed mandatory vaccination policies. Some universities, including Western, are requiring students to have at least a first dose to live in residence. In Quebec, health care workers in certain hospital units must be immunized or face consequences, including repeat testing, reassignment, or unpaid leave.
Another option to mandatory vaccines is for employers to provide incentives to employees. Quebec-based DLGL Technologies is offering employees who provide proof of the vaccine a $2,500 bonus, or $1,250 for each shot. Generally, incentives across the globe have been successful with the exception of hard-core deniers. The movable middle, or people who have been hesitant, are generally convinced to get vaccinated.
As businesses continue to open the Ontario government continues to struggle with basic issues around allowing vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and customers entry into establishments. On July 9, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce called on the provincial government for additional workplace guidance. The province and the federal government have a fundamental role to play in addressing employer questions as public health measures ease. For instance, can employers ask staff about their vaccination status? Can they mandate the wearing of masks and social distancing in their individual workplaces once public health orders are ended?
Without clear guidance from government, Canada risks a piecemeal approach – or a situation in which some employers are unsure what they can or should do and/or some fail to take appropriate steps to protect their employees and customers. Further, without government guidance, employers could expose themselves to protracted legal issues and grievances from employees. Public health guidance for fully vaccinated residents is also required – what can we safely do and where/when should we exercise caution?
Recent media reports have also indicated that an increasing number of Canadian businesses are considering putting policies in place that would require customers to provide proof of vaccines before receiving any services. Many owners of all sizes and in all sectors say they want to protect customers and employees as public health restrictions lift across Canada.
Employers are thinking in terms of what they should be doing to protect their customers and protect their employees, and then also thinking whether a federal or provincial government vaccine passport might be a tool for access. Businesses are currently carrying an excessive burden to make their own assessments because there are no government rules or policy to conform with.
Businesses considering such a policy should be able to demonstrate that any privacy infringement is acceptable if it protects communal health. Some organizations and businesses have already made vaccine policy decisions to protect their patrons and staff.
We need clarity for Canadian businesses across the country. Because as we emerge from this last COVID-19 lockdown, we know one thing for sure – going backward is not an option. So, give the business community the tools to open, re-open, and stay open – safely!
Ian McLean is President and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce and Chair of McLean and Associates. He is the host of ‘Business to Business’ on 570 News and was previously a columnist at the Waterloo Chronicle. McLean served as City of Waterloo councillor from 2003 to 2010, chairing the finance and strategic planning committees during his tenure.