The federal government is moving more slowly than the provinces to repeal COVID-19 public health restrictions, but it is nonetheless shifting its thinking from “requirements” to “recommendations,” notably with vaccine mandates under review, says Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam.
“As you’ve seen across the country right now, the public health strategy is moving away from mandates to recommendations, and to use all manner of other means to increase coverage for the boosters,” Tam said during a virtual COVID-19 update on March 18.
The latest government relaxing of restrictions occurred on March 17 when it was announced that fully vaccinated travellers coming to Canada will no longer be subjected to pre-entry COVID-19 testing beginning on April 1. No word was given on when the vaccine mandate for air, train, and ship travel would be lifted.
Tam was asked what advice she is providing the government on vaccine mandates when it comes to travel and the federal workforce.
“I think our role is simply to provide the scientific information about the effectiveness of vaccines, for example, and so it is up to the employer and Treasury Board to make those decisions. So I think the advice from our perspective is a technical one,” she said.
“I know that those policies are under evaluation or review, including for example the federal mandates for the federal workers.”
The Epoch Times reached out to the Treasury Board to find out more about the review of the mandate but didn’t hear back before publication time.
Tam was asked about what the science tells her about vaccine mandates and how useful they are at this point, given that some people who were triple vaccinated still contracted COVID.
“I think everyone appreciates the knowledge about vaccinations evolves over time,” she replied, noting that Omicron was a “game changer” due to its ability to evade vaccines, and that the protection from the vaccines wanes over time.
“So all of that should be taken into account, as the employer or the federal government looks at the policies going forward,” she said.
Regarding other federal policies such as masking on government premises, Tam said “the federal government has taken a very precautionary approach, very thoughtful approach, and is looking at a phased approach and removing some of these policies.”
“I think there’ll be a lot of discussions between the employer and the unions and others as well on this matter, but I know that these policies are being reviewed and re-examined as we speak.”
On the issue of eventually changing the definition of someone being fully vaccinated, which currently involves vaccination with a primary series (one or two doses depending on the brand), Tam said the issue is highly complicated due to many factors.
“It becomes a very complicated algorithm, if you like, to work out,” she said, adding that for now the definition won’t change, but a shift away from requirements is happening.
“This is a very important juncture where we’re shifting the emphasis from requirements to recommendations, and so even this policy [definition of fully-vaccinated] has to be examined in that light.”
As things stand, the approach also won’t be to use mandates to impose a third dose in the event of another wave.
“I don’t think that the general trend is to use vaccine mandates to incentivize that third dose. We want Canadians to want to get it because it makes sense from a protection from serious outcome perspective,” Tam said.
As for a possible new wave, she noted that cases are rising in Asia and Europe. “It may well happen to us, but to keep it manageable, get vaccinated.”
Tam’s deputy Dr. Howard Njoo was asked if continuing to provide booster doses was a viable long-term strategy.
Njoo said it’s a complex issue involving different factors, including the likely emergence of new variants. He also said that the intervals between doses needs to be weighed when judging the “validity and efficacy of future booster doses.”
“Experts are looking at this closely to see whether as well we need to develop new vaccines in the future,” he said.