COVID and vaccines

With Omicron variant bringing COVID-19 to record highs there are a few things going on, which I plan to discuss below. First is Conservative pandering to anti-vaxxers, then vaccine tax and/or mandatory vaccines. Finally too many experts getting predictions wrong and asking for draconian policies rest of world has moved beyond.

I am a small c conservative and did vote Conservative last election, but I am disgusted that too many in party pandering to anti-vaxxers. Yes I get some are concerned mandatory vaccines are a rights violation as I will discuss in next paragraph, but reality is 85% of Canadians did right thing and we are sick and tired of politicians who pander to the minority holding this up. 100% vaccination maybe wouldn’t stop Omicron from ripping through the population, but would probably keep hospitalizations low enough that justifications for further restrictions, especially lockdowns would be much weaker. Off course some will push for lockdowns no matter how high vaccine rates are, but at least the rational for it will be weaker and weaker rational is, the less public support there will be for lockdowns. Except for a tiny percentage of people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons, we should not be tolerating those who chose not to get vaccinated. It is an irresponsible and selfish choice and even if they have right to not get vaccinated, no politician should normalize or encourage us to have sympathy for those who show no respect for rest of society. If this continues, I will have a tough time voting Conservative next time around. So my advice to Conservatives, is it knock it off and let the anti-vaxxers go join Mad Max’s PPC. Whether one has legal right not to get vaccinated is debatable, but that doesn’t mean just because legally allowed that it is morally justifiable. Tories could say they recognize people may have legal right not to get vaccinated, but that it is an irresponsible and selfish choice and not one they condone. Instead they are asking us to show respect for unvaccinated who have not shown an ounce of respect for society in return.

Other issue is mandatory vaccines which federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos suggested and anti-vax tax that Legault is proposing. As per earlier post, I do support mandatory vaccinations, but only as a very last resort and should only be done when all other options are exhausted. We are getting closer to this point and maybe there but its important that if done, it is only be done after every other option tried. On an anti-vax tax, I fully support that and to ensure it hits everyone not just poor, I would make it a 2% additional tax on top of what one pays in income tax if unvaccinated without a valid medical reason. So that way it is proportional and bites everyone, not just those at bottom of income scale. While controversial, I think it is quite reasonable. We already tax harmful products like tobacco and alcohol so this is really no different than that. Since unvaccinated are more likely to use health care system, makes sense to ask them to pay more into. Obviously charging them if they get COVID-19 like Singapore does would be a violation of the Canada Health Act (note I support repealing it, but that is a different topic), but a general tax would be akin to health care premiums some provinces have thus likely complies with CHA. It doesn’t force one to get vaccinated, just says if you chose not to, there are consequences. On mandatory vaccines, I believe if done, should be a fine. I don’t as some would suggest support forcefully injecting the vaccine, few suggesting going that far. Just if you chose not to and don’t have valid medical reason, you pay a fine or tax. Now some say this is a Charter rights violation and they are right. But section 1 in charter clearly allows for reasonable limits in a free and democratic society so due to harm unvaccinated cause to health care system and fact they are leading to more lockdowns; I think its quite possible it could be justified under section 1. Contrary to what some say, rights are not absolute, there are limits. If being unvaccinated, didn’t harm others and only one’s self; I would totally oppose mandatory vaccines. But moment one exercising their rights harms someone else, that is when their rights end. Even in the US, mandatory vaccines do have some legal precedence as in 1905, Supreme court upheld Massachusetts’ mandatory smallpox vaccination. So those claiming its a blatant human rights violation are wrong. It is a right’s violation, but all rights are subject to reasonable limits. More importantly in cases like this, an important concept is proportionality meaning its not as clear cut as some would like to think.

Final issue is lockdowns and public health restrictions. Right now 3 provinces and one territory representing about 2/3 of Canadian population are in lockdown while all provinces and territories save Saskatchewan have required some businesses to close or have capacity limits. Omicron is hitting almost everywhere around the globe, yet on balance, our restrictions are some of the tightest. Too many are still stuck in the 2020 mode and have not pivoted to fact over 80% are vaccinated. My worry is if we continue to have lockdowns over every spike, it will wreck our economy while others recover and do more damage than good. We have vaccines and we have tools to help mitigate so its time people start deciding for themselves what their risk tolerance is instead of asking for draconian policies. I understand some are frightened and wish to stay home until this passes and I fully respect that. Thus why I support making a law that all workplaces must allow people to work from home if feasible. This would accommodate those who feel uncomfortable going out without locking down all of society. But more importantly its time for politicians to start saying no to those who push for lockdowns every time cases spike. This won’t be last spike and if politicians don’t have guts to say no to those pushing them, we will get into a 6 month on and off lockdown roller coaster which will cause far more damage than COVID-19. Yes people will tragically die, but we don’t live in a risk free world. People die in car accidents, but we don’t ban driving. Instead of we have seat belts, air bags, speed limits etc. Masks and vaccine passports are like seat belts, don’t prevent all deaths but greatly reduce them. Lockdowns are akin to telling people they cannot drive at all as some may die in a car accident. Most countries have moved beyond lockdowns including many that had much stricter ones than we did like Australia. Netherlands is only major industrialized country I know of that has more restrictions than Ontario and Quebec have right now. Finally many experts have faulty models too. I believe in idea of listening to experts, but when your projections every wave are wildly off what actually happens and when for this wave you are predicting things that aren’t happening anywhere else in the world; you don’t need to be an expert to say something is wrong. Back in my university days, I always for every answer would ask does this sound reasonable and if no, I would double check. And I feel groups like Ontario Science table and other modelers aren’t asking this. Its okay to get it wrong first time, no one knew for sure so mistakes were bound to happen. But when you are repeatedly getting projections wrong, it is prudent to look into why and make corrections. I get feeling too many go on idea lockdowns are harmless so better safe than sorry but they are not. In fact one of my economics professors from university 21 years ago at SFU in my first year did a whole publication on this https://www.sfu.ca/~allen/LockdownReport.pdf and his report makes a fair bit of sense. He says models were way off as they went on idea people would not change behaviour (which is false) and everyone would follow lockdown rules (which is also false). Don’t agree with everything in there, but it does a good job of explaining why modeling so wildly off. My fear is only way put an end for lockdowns for good is when enough people tell politicians they won’t vote for them if they implement them. And I feel way may be getting closer to this. There are some experts who will only support ending lockdowns when virus goes away, which is not likely to happen anytime soon if ever. And that would be an unmitigated disaster so people as well as politicians need to push back and tell these types, no, we are not going to do this, that is not way we wish to live. Some say lockdowns needed to prevent overflow in hospitalizations. But I believe this is not good enough either as while I feel for health care workers who are exhausted and overwhelmed, we cannot wreck things for everyone else over one sector. Even before COVID-19, hospitals were often going beyond capacity so this points to bigger problem. More importantly in interim, we should start using field hospitals during surges and if things do hit capacity, start triaging unvaccinated. Fact so few people in ICU brings about near collapse and forces shutdown of businesses and restrictions shows we have a problem and its time to get busy fixing it, not accepting lockdowns as solution every time it hits capacity.

4 thoughts on “COVID and vaccines

  1. It’s a serious bind the CPC are in. They can’t afford to lose much of their support to the PPC when they are already in need for extra support, since their ceiling is likely around 42-44% on a perfect day (with no leakage to the right and pulling every swing voter possible). Even then, they still need a solid Liberal-NDP split to win a majority. However, the position to hold the PPC-curious voters (against all mandates, whether or not they were vaccinated) repels the “reach” voters who tend to be near the middle of the spectrum and at least supportive of vaccine mandates, if not taxes and the like. The Conservatives likely can only afford to lose maybe 4 or 5 points rightward before any gains at the centre become mathematically impossible to bridge even on a perfect result.

    I think the big fear is that the PPC can get enough momentum to get in the mid- to high teens in the polls. That is likely the point where the CPC base ridings start to become in serious danger. (Assuming the PPC remains irrelevant in most urban areas, the tipping point is likely fairly low.)

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    1. Yes definitely an issue, but with no election on the horizon, I feel by next election which is likely 2024 or 2025 one of the following will happen

      1. Pandemic has fully transitioned to endemic status and its fully back to normal like 2019 so non-issue.
      2. Pandemic is still raging but most accept vaccine passports or mandatory vaccines only way to avoid future lockdowns. I think already many have had enough of lockdowns so if smart Tories would say that they will eliminate vaccine mandates whenever safe to do so, but alternative is further lockdowns or hospitals being overwhelmed and those two options both worse than vaccine mandates. Won’t work with hardcore but may help.

      Also there is strategic voting and I think since most PPC hate Trudeau with a passion, people are more likely to vote PPC in safe ridings than marginals. You see this a lot in UK politics where Liberal Democrats tend to do best in constituencies where Labour has no chance of winning and likewise Brexit Party and UKIP before generally were strongest either in safe Tory constituencies or no hope Tory ones, not marginals. Same with Greens in UK as they tend to best in safe Labour constituencies.

      In Canada, you see that a fair bit as NDP is usually very weak in 905 belt and part of that is ideology, but also partly due to strategic voting too. Certainly in last election, PPC was very weak in the key swing areas of 905 belt and Lower Mainland suburbs. Most of the ridings they did best in were safe Tory ones. Northern Ontario and industrial centres in Southwestern Ontario only non-Tory areas they did well in and since ridings like Windsor-Tecumseh or Timmins-James Bay haven’t gone Tory in the last half century, I suspect most assumed they had no shot. Fact combined CPC + PPC was higher was a surprise and not sure if PPC didn’t run if they would flip those or not.

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  2. As you know, I think the Conservatives need to re-think their approach towards many issues, including the pandemic, to ever be a credible option for leadership in the world we face for the forseeable future. So you and I agree on some of your points, although not all of them.
    I agree with you that the Tories need to stop pandering for votes to those who refuse vaccination on unjustifiable grounds. At the same time, I don’t believe that mandating vaccines for everyone without medical exemptions is morally justifiable either. People who are not vaccinating right now are not one homogenous group; different people have very different reasons for not being vaccinated. I think there needs to be a nuanced approach to getting as many people vaccinated as possible without resorting to legislated coercion.
    Sunnybrook Hospital’s peer training initiative to respond to co-workers’ concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine is a great read (and listen on the CBC program White Coat Black Art). They share their respectful but also successful approach to increasing uptake of the vaccine:

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/hospital-s-friendly-huddles-persuade-more-staff-to-get-covid-19-vaccinations-1.6260936
    I think these kinds of approaches, along with intensified efforts to increase access to vaccines, will be a more effective means to boost uptake than taxing people. And I think the less politicians pontificate about the matter the better, whether it is Trudeau trying to shame the unvaccinated or O’Toole trying to pander to them. All of our leaders need to lead by example, encourage others, and work as hard as they can to devise policies and programs that keep moving the uptake dial upwards.

    As for the modelling, you are undoubtedly right that we cannot rely on the modelling to be reliably accurate. I think it is far too difficult to get precise models with so many variables and such incomplete data and ever changing contexts around our inter-connected globe. That said, scientists, politicians, health care practitioners and all of us are working with partial pictures, and at the end of the day, the pandemic requires them to continually make the best calculations they can to respond and adapt thoughtfully day to day. And in that regard, I agree with you to some extent that it is time to recalibrate the balance between controlling the bug and living the rest of life. I can’t however agree that we can just keep driving our health systems and all those who work in it and all those who need it into more and more desperate shape. I think that short term measures to lessen the impact of these COVID surges on everyone are still needed until we can get past this current spike.

    Meanwhile, the bug has starkly broadcast to the public that governments need to up their game in strengthening our health systems. We were already in huge trouble with world wide nursing shortages, demoralized workforces, and ever escalating health system costs long before COVID ever arrived. While you and I don’t always agree on the best solutions to health system improvement, there are plenty of experts to advise on solutions that are more cost-effective than our current approaches, and do not need to be private for profit solutions. Outreach programs like Kilala Lelum in Vancouver’s DTES https://kilalalelum.ca/ – and better use of primary care teams with Nurse Practitioners https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/how-nurse-practitioners-are-bridging-the-gap-between-family-doctors-and-the-er-1.6267206 are just two of endless examples of better ways to get cost-effective care where it is needed to those who need it most. I also think that Kilala Lelum and other similar not for profit programs should be government funded rather than having to constantly search for funds to provide their essential health and social services.

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    1. I think on vaccine mandates, mandatory vaccines should be done as last resort and obviously those with legitimate medical exemptions should be exempt. I do think you have two classes of anti-vaxxers:

      1. Those frightened and skeptical. Those we should still work on and a lot of them now have gotten the shot. I think biggest barrier is making it clear to people in low paying jobs that they have right to take time off work to get the shot and their employer must grant it.

      2. Hardcore anti-vaxxers. These are type who read internet conspiracy theories and cannot be convinced otherwise and so for these types I support vaccine mandates. Not sure how many left of #1, but once we’ve convinced them, I think for this group mandates only solution.

      As for restrictions, not saying none, but I think full lockdowns with most double vaccinated and many receiving their booster is excessive. Capacity limits and maybe banning really large gatherings perhaps, but with COVID-19 likely to be here to many years we need to pivot as we cannot keep locking down every time a spike. For sure we need to increase ICU capacity. As for private solutions, I am more thinking when hospitals are overloaded, no reason we cannot re-direct elective surgeries to private clinics or even US, but only when overwhelmed not as regular usage and government would still pay full cost.

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