People with jobs usually must follow rules in order to keep those jobs. Some of these basic conditions of employment include not using or being impaired by alcohol or drugs while on the job, and abiding by established health and safety rules. But there are some who feel that mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers are not part of workplace health and safety.
Employees of Hawkesbury and District General Hospital (HGH) were required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as of October 15. As of November 15, all long-term care facility employees across Ontario must be vaccinated. Locally, a small but vocal group of vaccine dissenters have been protesting, allegedly in support of health care workers who are losing their jobs because they chose not to be vaccinated. The protesters would have the public believe there are now multitudes of unemployed nurses, technicians, orderlies, and even physicians. Their argument is weak considering that nearly two weeks ago, HGH officials were estimating more than 99 per cent of employees would be vaccinated by the deadline. At the Prescott and Russell Residence, more than 97 per cent of employees at the long-term care facility had been vaccinated as of October 7. With compliance rates like these, so much for the notion of multitudes of unvaccinated nurses applying for Employment Insurance.
Sadly, the protests are about more than the vaccination. It would seem that much of the protest seems to be about the management of the pandemic, and in some cases, the very existence of the pandemic and the severity of the illness associated with COVID-19. Protest signs seemed more about government conspiracies and allegations of COVID-19 vaccines rather than showing support for health care workers.
These activists sometimes describe themselves as defenders of true liberty and conservatism. As protesters question mandated vaccinations, so, too, can the rest of us question the notion of individual liberty versus the common good. Citizens may be free to say no to vaccination, but the consequences of their decision will continue to stretch front-line health care workers to the breaking point. Job losses, economic fragility, the impact on education systems, and mental health challenges will continue to strain society as we wait out the consequences of those who think they are free to say no to a vaccine that is saving lives.
Things will reach a breaking point. While some are encouraging kindness and making allowance for the right to choice, one cannot help but compare the refusal to get vaccinated to the refusal of each of us to take positive action for climate change. As humans, if we know that something is destroying us, why would we not take action to save ourselves? Here, too, climate-action deniers deny science.
The solution is: education and the facts. One has only to look to history to find many examples of attitude change. Think about slavery, Japanese-Canadian internment camps, our treatment of Indigenous peoples, our attitude about tobacco.
It is scary how many mistakes can be found in our past. But more frightening still is how long it takes to change people’s attitudes. We can each do our part to ensure that we are not spreading misinformation, but our governments need to step up their efforts to get good, clear information in front of the people who need to hear it.
We are all in this together. And if we don’t get on top of this, we will all go down together. At that point, who was right simply won’t matter.
– By James Morgan and Louise Sproule