The world could be months to years away from developing a vaccine against COVID-19, but the novel coronavirus’s disruption of daily life has some Canadians hoping that immunizations will be made mandatory.
According to results from an online Leger poll released on Tuesday (April 28), 60 per cent of 1,515 Canadian respondents said they think a vaccine should be mandatory once one is created, tested and approved. The remaining 40 per cent said it should be voluntary.
Broken down by province, support for a mandatory vaccine was a view shared highest in Atlantic Canada, at 63 per cent, followed by 62 per cent in Ontario. The poll found 52 per cent of respondents from Manitoba and Saskatchewan support a mandatory vaccines, the lowest across all provinces.
B.C. respondents were split 60 per cent for mandatory vaccination, 40 per cent for it to be voluntary.
Meanwhile, the 1,016 respondents from the United Stats were split 50-50 on the issue.
While the online poll could not include a margin of error, meaning it cannot be entirely exact, it is the first to shed light on what could become a contentious public health debate once a vaccine is ready.
COVID-19 has done its share of damage in Canada in recent months, forcing thousands out of work, sparking bans and restrictions on public outings and a temporary closure of the country’s borders.
At least 48,000 Canadians have contracted the contagious respiratory illness. Roughly 2,700 people, most of those seniors, have died due to or related to the virus.
Vaccines are not mandatory in Canada.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it is too soon to speak on whether any immunizations would be required.
“We still have a fair bit of time to reflect on that in order to get it right,” Trudeau said, adding that there may be treatments that help manage the spread of the novel coronavirus as countries look for a vaccine, similar to the current response to HIV/AIDS as researches have gone years hunting for a vaccine to no avail.
“There are obviously going to be extremely important decisions around how to best get to that level of vaccination that will prevent further spread of COVID-19,” Trudeau said.
“There’s a lot of studies done on that over the past years in terms of what threshold of the population needs to vaccinated in order to prevent any spread of a disease and that research will obviously inform decisions we take around the COVID-19 vaccine when it comes.”
The federal government has provided $275 million in funding for vaccine and antiviral development and clinical trials globally, including $27 million across 47 teams of scientists researching the novel coronavirus.
In B.C., this isn’t the first time in recent years that policy on vaccinations has become the talking point of an infectious disease. In 2019, the province launched a mandatory immunization program across schools to stamp out a resurgence of the contagious measles disease.
Health Minister Adrian Dix launched the province-wide program and a target of immunizing 95 per cent of residents, with the exception being exemptions for medical or “philosophical reasons,” he said at the time.
In September 2019, as school returned, the province also implemented a mandatory vaccine record check.
A poll by Angus Reid Institute conducted that year suggested that that 70 per cent of Canadians believed in mandatory vaccinations in children. Roughly 24 per cent said it should be the parent’s choice, while seven per cent were undecided on the issue.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said earlier this month that there likely won’t be a mass vaccination process.
“We do have plans across the province for mass vaccination clinics,” she said. “I would not see us having mandatory immunization for this.”