Danielle Smith wants vaccination status to be a human right. Expect a petri dish of trouble

There have been a lot saidand rightly thenabout new Prime Minister Danielle Smith’s remarks that unvaccinated people have been discriminated against more than any other group over the past half-century – a 50-year period that has been marked by systemic racism against various groups, the rise of Islamophobia and transphobia, persistent homophobia and anti-Semitism, the continued mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, and so on

She tried to clean up her remarks, but that might not mean that unstable by what she said will forget or forgive.

However, much less attention has been paid to why she was prompted to share her thoughts on the extent of discrimination against people who chose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine. .

One of Smith’s key leadership campaign promises, which she is apparently determined to keep, is to enshrine protections in the Alberta Human Rights Act for people based on vaccination status.

This would put whether or not the choice of a COVID shot is on par with gender, sexual orientation, race, country of origin and religious beliefs in the province’s landmark anti-discrimination law. But beyond the inherent controversy of equating vaccination with these other aspects, there are other real consequences at stake if the Alberta legislature makes this change.

The human right that could harm others

Smith’s proposed decision could have significant ramifications for the state of health care in Alberta, far beyond this pandemic.

Because as difficult as it may be for some of us, more than two years later, let’s put COVID aside for a second, even though that’s what motivated Smith to campaign in this direction.

Vaccine mandates and rules aren’t something that suddenly burst onto the world in 2021, when Pfizer, Moderna and other companies designed vaccines to protect against the coronavirus. Such requirements have long been common for health care workers, health science students, and others in this field. Requirements remained in place for other vaccinations – hepatitis B, measles, tetanus and other easily preventable diseases with well-established vaccination programs.

Here, for example, is the Faculty of Health at the University of Alberta form. And one hiring notice be a registered nurse at Covenant Health’s hospital in Camrose, citing the requirement that successful applicants have the annual flu shot.

And outside of health care, Lakeland College in Vermilion demanded that students in their hairdressing and esthetic programs present proof of vaccination against hepatitis B and measles, mumps and rubella.

Anti-vaccine protesters outside the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton in September 2021. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

In the Alberta that Smith promised the United Conservatives, it wouldn’t even be acceptable for the bosses to ask for vaccination records. In an Aug. 31 press release, his campaign promised a policy « prohibiting employers from demanding vaccinations and other health information from Albertans. »

With such promises, Smith appealed to the minority segment of Albertans who have not been vaccinated against COVID – it is only nine percent people over the age of 12 – or have been wronged for being pressured into doing so, for fear of suffering consequences in the workplace or being restricted in their ability to fly, dining out or visiting long-term care homes.

But if you establish a human right to refuse vaccines and not face employment or consumer consequences, Smith presumably cannot conceive of a protected class relating only to vaccination against a single disease. It is assumed that it should apply to all vaccinations.

The Alberta Human Rights Act would effectively protect a newly created freedom of a group of citizens and, in doing so, limit disease protections for other Albertans among them. In other words, healthcare workers would be free from not being protected against a range of other illnesses when working in hospitals.

“You open the door to resurgences of vaccine-preventable diseases potentially spread in a health care setting,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta.

Hepatitis B, for example, is a chronic liver infection that can lead to cancer or liver failure and is easily transmitted through the blood. This vaccine, Saxinger said, has largely eliminated previous risks of hepatitis B outbreaks in hospitals or other health care facilities.

kristen davis
A registered nurse was the first healthcare worker in Grande Prairie, Alberta to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020. By the time COVID vaccines became mandatory the following fall, more than 97 % of Alberta health care workers were immunized. (Chris Beauchamp/Alberta Health Services)

As with the rules on COVID vaccines, health sector policies regarding other rules or vaccine disclosures had been well developed and considered, with discussion of the impacts on workers’ freedoms and personal choice set. balanced against the consequences of higher risks for hospitalized patients. Smith’s plan would take that decision out of the hands of health administrators and drop it squarely on the « freedom » side of that equation.

« It basically means that the science and the ethics behind what we’re doing right now doesn’t matter anymore, and you can have someone in the healthcare industry who could potentially be carrying a disease. infectious disease and exposing patients to it on an ongoing basis and doing nothing about it,” Saxinger said.

New wave thinking

Clearly, Smith is targeting the healthcare industry for this harsh crackdown on the ability to prevent unvaccinated workers. She repeatedly linked the strain in the system to the fact that healthcare employers had demanded COVID vaccinations.

But the overwhelming majority of AHS workers complied with the requirement — more than 97.7% of part-time and full-time staff and 99.8% of physicians. And when AHS was ordered by the Kenney government to rescind its employee mandate in March, the agency expected to add just 750 workers. More than 121,000 people are employed by AHS and its subsidiaries.

And remember, these vaccine rules came into effect during the Delta wave, before Omicron changed the stakes in transmission protection. Federal government employers at Alberta Health Services have dropped their COVID vaccination mandates, and Smith clearly doesn’t want to embrace a new passport system.

But it’s also worrying for a prime minister to provide such clear blockades against new vaccination rules for anyone if the virus evolves further or another new virus emerges that a vaccine can firmly mitigate, Saxinger said.

When the new prime minister pledged no more lockdowns, at a time when no one in the Western world was imposing COVID restrictions on restaurants or places of worship, she was making a promise that would only have consequences if the things were falling back into extreme pandemic peril. But it is not at all the same with his plans for the Alberta Human Rights Act.

Given the magnitude of such a decision, you don’t have to be a COVID pessimist to fear it could be life-threatening.


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