The Alberta government has no plans to make inoculation mandatory if or when an approved COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday night.
The premier made the comment while answering questions during a Facebook livestream for which he was joined by the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as well as members of his cabinet.
“There’s been some misinformation that the government recently adopted a law requiring mandatory vaccinations — that is completely untrue,” he said. “That is just a total myth.
“The truth is that since 1910, the Public Health Act, or its previous legislation, has had the ability to require mandatory inoculation. That’s, as far as we know, never been used and certainly the government has no intention of making that mandatory.”
However, Kenney said if a safe vaccine is developed and approved, his government would “strongly encourage people to use it as we do in flu season.”
“We’ll wait and see what happens scientifically on this,” he added.
Most people ‘eagerly’ awaiting vaccine: expert
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, a physician specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Alberta, told Global News that normally she would expect there would be no need to mandate a vaccine because “many people are waiting eagerly for it, to reduce their own risk and protect others, and help us regain a more normal feeling society.”
“After all, it’s a disease that is at least 10 times more fatal than the flu or measles, and we expect 70 to 80 per cent of people to be infected if things are unchecked,” she said. “At the same time, I think the pandemic has shown us exactly how polarized some topics can get and the rapid spread of misinformation.
“If less than the range we need — which is likely 70 to 80 per cent are willing to be vaccinated, we need to look at all options.”
Saxinger said one of those options could be increasing education.
“Support and incentives have been used successfully in some places and mandated vaccination in others, but you need to know the ‘why’ to decide on the best fix,” she said.
“At the end of the day, choosing not to accept a vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective is a public health risk — you are clearly endangering others by your choice, so mandating vaccination is not out of the question.”
Saxinger noted that she believes most people are accepting of vaccines and that it’s a vocal minority that opposes them.
“People who are genuinely hesitant often do well if someone takes the time to hear their concerns and engage with them supportively, and that needs to be built in from the start,” she said.
“Honestly, as a hospital-based physician, I’d be lining up for a COVID-19 vaccine, with my whole family, on Day 1.”
Hinshaw says vaccine progress is ‘incredible’
During Wednesday night’s livestream, Hinshaw said she is aware of 10 different vaccines that are currently in their trial phase with human subjects.
“One of those is in Canada and we’re going to be watching really closely to see how those perform,” she said. “Obviously, one of the critical elements is how effective those vaccines are at protecting people, and also, the other key factor is how safe they are.
“Those are two things that are being evaluated right now. In addition to those 10 that are in human trials, there are several others that are working through other testing stages, such as animal models.”
Hinshaw said progress being made on trying to develop a vaccine is “incredible” given that the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus is only a few months old.
However, she noted that the process of developing a safe vaccine and getting it approved takes time and she believes a vaccine won’t be ready until 2021 at the earliest.
“Even if one or more of these clinical trials show promise, they’re with relatively small groups of people — in the hundreds — now because we first need to make sure they’re safe and effective with a smaller group,” Hinshaw said. “Then you’d need to be scaling up and doing larger trials to ensure safety in larger groups and then, depending on the type of vaccine, some vaccines may be more difficult to manufacture in large quantities than others.
“So there’s the research part and then there’s the getting it to market part, which takes quite a bit of time when you identify the vaccine that shows the most promise.”
Hinshaw added that she’s not sure there’s one vaccine being tested right now that’s a frontrunner but said the stage vaccine trials are already at “is encouraging.”