A survey conducted exclusively for Global News last week found that 72 per cent of Canadians agree that vaccination against COVID-19 should be obligatory across the country once a vaccine is developed and available.
Forty-one per cent strongly agreed with the idea, while 32 per cent somewhat agreed. Similarly, 67 per cent of Canadians agreed that the country should have the “ability and capacity” to vaccinate against COVID-19 before reopening businesses and society.
Canadian bioethicist Kerry Bowman said the poll results suggest “an upward trend from the normal ambivalence about vaccines” and could be attributed to how people are feeling at this point in the pandemic.
“As we go into week nine, we think: ‘We cannot live like this,'” said Bowman, who teaches medical ethics and global health at the University of Toronto.
Given that many questions about the virus remain unanswered — like whether people can be re-infected — Bowman suggested the poll numbers demonstrate that most people currently consider a vaccine their only viable protection against COVID-19.
“There doesn’t seem to be an easy way out of this … so the only way to move towards herd immunity would be an effective vaccine,” Bowman said.
For comparison, an internet-based survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies in late April found that 60 per cent of respondents believe people should be required to get the vaccine once it is ready.
Given the havoc the coronavirus has wreaked on Canadians’ lives, Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker said he found it “surprising” that the percentage of people who supported a mandatory vaccine wasn’t higher.
“It shows you just how strong concern is about vaccines these days in Canadian society,” Bricker told Global News, noting that concerns might surround possible effects of a vaccine or simply the idea of being forced to do something.
In the Ipsos poll, 28 per cent of those surveyed reported they were opposed to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, with 11 per cent saying they were strongly opposed and 17 per cent saying they were somewhat opposed.
Of the respondents who told Ipsos they support a mandatory vaccine, support was highest among people aged 65 and older (80 per cent) — the people, Bowman suggested, who “feel the greatest risk” amid the pandemic.
“If we don’t have a vaccine, the lives are put at risk out of people within that cohort,” he said.
A vaccine for the virus is still at least a year, if not 18 months, away, according to Canadian and international health officials — and so the question and debate over a mandatory vaccine still remains “highly hypothetical,” Bowman cautioned.
“If we did (have a vaccine), there’s a whole lot of questions I would have,” he said. “How safe is this? What does the data tell us? How effective is it? Is it effective for most people, is it effective for all people, and for how long is it effective?”
Leading vaccine expert Noni MacDonald says it’s highly unlikely governments will force Canadians to get a COVID-19 vaccine “anywhere in the near future” — in part because that would involve having a large enough supply of the shots for the whole country.
The question of “easy and equitable” access will be a bigger issue than voluntary versus mandatory inoculation once a vaccine is developed, she argued.
“We will only have limited quantities of it and we’re gonna have to be very careful and make really tough decisions on who is going to get access to it,” said MacDonald, who teaches at Dalhousie University and serves on a World Health Organization advisory group that makes recommendations on vaccines and immunization.
On top of that, a mandatory vaccine would be logistically complex to enforce, said MacDonald.
“When you do something that’s actually mandatory, there has to be either a penalty or an incentive for doing it,” she said. “And you have to have somebody who’s checking to see if it gets done.”
There’s no framework for that right now in Canada, according to Bowman and MacDonald. The exception to that is mandated vaccinations for workers in health-care settings. Both MacDonald and Bowman said they could see that exception extended to a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as to employees in long-term care homes and first responders.
Given these constraints, MacDonald said her interpretation of the high support for a mandatory vaccine is that “a very high percentage of Canadians really see the value of having a COVID-19 vaccine and making sure there’s a whole lot of people who have it.”
“As COVID-19 rips through our community, all of us are going to know somebody who died or who got very sick,” she said.
“This is very real for us.”
“We want to protect our families and we want to protect everybody in our community.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau so far has said little about how his government would approach distributing and administering a vaccine, once it’s developed.
Asked in late April whether he would make it mandatory for all Canadians to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the prime minister didn’t expand on what “vaccination protocols” his government favours at this point in the pandemic.
“We are still, unfortunately, a long way from having a vaccine and just finding the vaccine is the first step. The next step will be producing the vaccines in sufficient number to inoculate everyone or almost everyone,” Trudeau said on April 28.
“As to what sort of vaccination protocols will be in place, we still have a fair bit of time to reflect on that in order to get it right.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press
Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.”
This Ipsos poll on behalf of Global News was an online survey of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ conducted between May 8 and 11, 2020. The results were weighted to better reflect the composition of the adult Canadian population, according to census data. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.