A look at the latest COVID-19 developments in Canada
A look at the latest COVID-19 news in Canada: — Canada's health minister says he expects the country to reach a time in the COVID-19 pandemic when provinces consider implementing a broader vaccine mandate to counter rising cases. Jean-Yves Duclos told a COVID-19 briefing on Friday that such a measure was not currently being contemplated in Canada, but his personal opinion was that the country would get there at some point. Given how fragile the health-care system is in Canada and its aging population, Duclos said he thinks that type of measure will be considered by provinces over the next weeks and months.
© @TheWHL/Twitter WHL commissioner Ron Robison announced in September that the league had achieved 100 per cent compliance with its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy.
Experts watching Canada's response to the pandemic say sports leagues, including the Western Hockey League, are showing what can be achieved with firmer vaccination policies.
In a news conference in September, WHL commissioner Ron Robison said that 100 per cent of the league's players and staff were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
As reported by the Brandon Sun, Robison said the league didn't lose a single player or staff member over the policy, and there were no requests to opt out.
Cross-border vaccine mandate will further disrupt supply chains, say truckers
Reese Evans said a looming cross-border vaccine mandate is costing his trucking company up to 20 per cent of its drivers. That’s a time when worker shortages have already “cobwebbed” about a quarter of the Lethbridge-area hauler’s fleet that specializes in hauling raw materials between the U.S. and Canada. “There are some major, major repercussions about to happen from this,” said Evans. Starting Saturday , Canada will require all truckers entering from the U.S. to be fully vaccinated or be required to enter a 14-day quarantine. The mandate is the first policy measure taken since the pandemic began that could limit cross-border trucking traffic.
The WHL didn't leave testing as an option to satisfy its vaccine mandate, choosing instead to make vaccination mandatory.
About 57 per cent of the players listed online on WHL teams' rosters come from the Prairie provinces.
Among the provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had the lowest percentage of their populations fully vaccinated as of Tuesday — ranging from 73 to 76 per cent, according to CBC's online COVID-19 vaccine tracker.
Impact of firmer vaccine mandates
The WHL announced its mandatory vaccination policy after the Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League instituted similar policies.
Most major professional sports leagues across North America have opted to introduce strong incentives for players to be vaccinated as opposed to blanket mandates. Most have reported vaccination rates of at least 90 per cent, with the NHL and WNBA at over 99 per cent.
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Fatima Tokhmafshan, a geneticist and bioethicist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, said there's a very simple explanation for the vaccination compliance rate in the WHL.
"They didn't give any other alternatives to their members," she said. "They said if you want to play, you've got to get the jab — and it's worked very well for them.
"So it's being very firm as to what are the options that you're offering people."
Anywhere where mandates have been implemented, the inclusion of alternatives or options to vaccination has dictated how much of an uptake there has been, Tokhmafshan said.
She said researchers know that when you offer other options to the vaccine-hesitant, they will opt for alternatives such as testing.
"The biggest takeaway is that if you are clear with your mandate — with the policy that you set out, if you don't leave any grey areas — that you will have the uptake," she said.
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If fortune smiles on us, the COVID-19 pandemic will burn itself out in 2022. But there will be another one sooner or later. It might mimic this one or be entirely different. Managing pandemics is an inexact science, but there are better and worse ways to do it. Canada can do a lot better next time by applying the hard lessons learned over the past two years. The first lesson is that a national problem requires a national solution — actually, an international solution, but that’s beyond our control. It’s folly to leave pandemic policy to provinces and territories. Borders mean nothing to viruses. Different control strategies are confusing and sometimes conflicting .
However, Tokhmafshan said, the Western Hockey League is a little bit of a special situation because the young athletes have hopes and dreams of turning pro — and the stakes for them are high if they were to opt out of getting vaccinated.
She said when it comes to the broader population, one of the most important things to consider before implementing vaccine mandates is equity and access.
"Equity and access also pertains to access to accurate information, access to trustable sources of information, people that align with your identity, with your culture, with things that you believe in and are able to give you accurate information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines," she said.
Tokhmafshan said whatever mandates are put in place should be firm but with specific consideration to the particular situation and contexts of each region and for any groups that are marginalized or traditionally under-served.
In her view, "it cannot be a very universal national mandate or even a provincial mandate."
Vaccination incentives in sports leagues 'relevant'
Timothy Caulfield, an author, professor and Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said there is some speculation in the academic community that vaccine mandates will work with "hard-core deniers" because it allows them to deal with their cognitive dissonance.
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"They can say, 'Look, I still disagree with this. But I guess I've got to get it done if I want to play hockey. I guess I've got to get it done if I want to work in this situation,'" he said.
However, Caulfield added, we know that incentives work.
"I think one of the lessons that we can take away from what's happened in the sports leagues is that if you have an incentive, if you have a disincentive that really impacts their professional lives, they're more likely to respond," he said. "And we're seeing that in other contexts also."
"But this evidence emerging from sports leagues, it's relevant, and it shows that incentives and disincentives can make a difference."
But policy makers need to use a range of tools, Caulfield said.
"We've got to come at hesitancy from all directions," he said. "We've got to come at misinformation from all directions. We need good education. We need thoughtful, non-judgmental engagement."
The WHL declined a CBC News request for an interview. But, Robison, the league commissioner, said in September that prior to mandating it, the WHL had more than 95 per cent of its players and staff fully vaccinated.
Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist and Canada Research chair at the University of Manitoba, applauds the league's achievment, "especially at a time when there's a lot of misinformation, when there's certainly a lot of consternation about mandates."
Trust still important
Kindrachuk said it has to be a two-way conversation where the public feels like they are part of the equation, "not just a one-way conversation where you have experts that are coming in that are saying, 'This is the absolute of why you need to do this and how you need to do this.'"
There are situations where vaccine mandates are very important, especially during a public health crisis such as the pandemic, he said.
But Kindrachuk said he hasn't made up his mind about the place of vaccine mandates over the long-term out of concern that those that are hesitant will become more polarized with broad mandates.
He said much hinges on community trust.
"Yes, you can try and enforce mandates. You can try and incentivize them. But if you want long-term buy-in, much of that is still built on forging trust," he said.
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"The truckers are the backbone of our nation", said one protest supporter, "and now they are the metaphor backbone for us standing up for our rights."Hundreds of people gathered along streets and sidewalks in the Barton Street and Centennial Parkway area Thursday morning, and hundreds more waved flags and signs along Queen Elizabeth Way overpasses.