By Noe Chartier
A briefing document from federal health authorities setting out the rationale for imposing vaccine mandates in the fall of 2021 raised ethical concerns and acknowledged that the vaccinated may transmit COVID-19 as much as the unvaccinated, but it nevertheless encouraged mandatory injections.
“There is some emerging evidence documenting that COVID-19 cases (Delta variant) in fully vaccinated individuals may have similar viral loads than unvaccinated cases,” says the briefing by Health Canada (HC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
The document did not raise questions about the usefulness of mandating vaccination given the COVID-19 shots do not stop transmission, with HC/PHAC instead making a case for the use of masks.
“This raises the question about their ability to transmit to others and the need to layer additional measures such as masking. The science on the capacity of vaccinated individuals to transmit will continue to evolve,” says the document.
The science did evolve, with the Omicron variant appearing a few months later and infecting a large number of people regardless of their vaccination status.
The briefing document, titled “Phased Approach to Federal COVID-19 Vaccination Policy,” was released through an access to information request.
Its stated purpose was to outline the rationale for imposing mandates on broad swathes of society using a proposed phased approach.
At the time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had stated his intention to mandate vaccination on sectors under his authority and campaigned on the issue for the federal election of September 2021.
The document was produced in the context of the increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, which HC/PHAC understood to mean that “much higher vaccination coverage target is needed to prevent wider outbreaks, sustain reopening, and prevent a fourth wave from presenting a risk to our health care system.”
The briefing provided the objectives of the policy that would later be imposed in October 2021 on federal employees and contractors, employees in federally regulated sectors such as transportation and banking, and users of certain federally regulated services such as those wishing to board flights. Some of those objectives in hindsight turned out to be assumptions and had lasting consequences.
The key public health objectives were listed as the federal government fulfilling its duty to protect employee health and safety, protecting Canadians who receive services from the federal government, and increasing vaccination rates “in support of efforts to reach the levels required to safety sustain reopening in the face of more transmissible and virulent variants of concern.”
Epidemiologists would have known that the virus would mutate, making vaccination increasingly less protective. This became evident with Omicron, and the government recognized it at the time internally.
A PHAC document from February 2022 released in the context of court proceedings challenging the travel vaccine mandate said that for Omicron, “vaccine effectiveness against infection, symptomatic disease, and transmission with two doses was initially ~<50 to 60%, but waned over time to near zero after six months.”
Among other vaccine mandate objectives of HC/PHAC there was the desire to “establish a social norm” and send an “important signal to vaccine complacent or hesitant Canadians.”
The document calls vaccine complacency and hesitancy a “significant and complex problem in Canada.”
Other goals included providing leadership to the private sector and supporting the return of public servants to government offices.
The private sector did follow, as mandated by the government, with some companies keeping their mandates long after Ottawa stopped renewing its policy in June 2022. Courier company Purolator announced in mid-April this year that it was dropping its mandate.
As for the return of public servants to offices, this never fully materialized and federal employees are currently on strike with one of their demands being making remote work permanent.
The HC/PHAC presentation also has a section about ethical considerations for imposing vaccination.
It asks whether it’s a necessity to achieve an “important public health goal.”
“Evidence that vaccination is necessary to ensure the health and safety of the workplace and Canadian population, and also that other, less intrusive measures, are insufficient,” says the briefing.
The sentence appears to be incomplete, but seems to suggest there is insufficient evidence to say vaccination is necessary.
The Epoch Times contacted Health Canada to obtain clarification but didn’t immediately hear back. The department was also asked to provide context surrounding the briefing.
Around the ethical issue of safety, the briefing says that the COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada are “safe for the population for who, the vaccine is required.”
Four products were authorized at the time: the mRNA-based Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the adenovirus-based vaccines from AstraZeneca (AZ) and Johnson & Johnson.
Federal health authorities in March 2021 recommended against giving the AZ shot to those under 55 because of blood clot issues.
On the ethical issue of accessibility, HC/PHAC determined that access was equitable since it can be provided for free to those for whom it is to be mandated.
Whereas HC/PHAC pondered ethical considerations in their vaccine mandate recommendation in the briefing document, the official who wrote the policy for the travel mandate told the federal court she didn’t.
Jennifer Little, director general of the COVID Recovery Team at Transport Canada, who was a government witness in support of the mandate during court proceedings last year, said during cross-examination that she had not considered ethics in writing the policy.
“I’m not aware of any particular study or specific conversation to that effect,” Little said on June 9, 2022.
The travel mandate prevented millions of Canadians from taking commercial flights and trains over half a year.
Other testimony during the legal proceedings indicated that the government knew the risk of in-flight transmission was low and had limited data on the impact of vaccination on air travel in terms of stopping the spread.
Last June, the federal government didn’t renew its interim orders implementing mandates across sectors.
Trudeau revisited this policy during a discussion with students at the University of Ottawa on April 24.
“While not forcing anyone to get vaccinated, I chose to make sure that all the incentives and all the protections were there to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated,” he said.
“And that’s exactly what they did, we got vaccinated to a higher level than just about any other of our peer countries, and that’s why we had a less deadly pandemic than most other countries.”
The John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center places Canada 73rd worst out of 193 countries for COVID deaths per 100,000 population, but the World Health Organization cautions about making comparisons due to different reporting and testing standards among countries. Page from a briefing document prepared by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada dated August 2021.