Published:January 7, 2022
Premier Jason Kenney quickly rejected the idea Friday that Canadian provinces should consider making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.
The suggestion came from federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, who said healthcare capacity is being spread “too thin” under a rising fifth wave driven by the Omicron variant.
“PPE, physical distancing, tests… these are all very important tools, but what will make us move through this crisis and end it is vaccination,” he said at a media briefing on Friday.
“I’m signalling this as a conversation which I believe provinces and territories, in support with the federal government, will want to have over the next weeks and months.”
Kenney responded on Twitter about an hour after the story broke, and a spokesperson for the premier declined further comment to CTV News Edmonton.
“Alberta’s Legislature removed the power of mandatory vaccination from the Public Health Act last year and will not revisit that decision, period,” he wrote.
“While we strongly encourage those who are eligible to get vaccinated, it is ultimately a personal choice that individuals must make.”
Alberta set all-time highs in recorded new COVID-19 cases in early January and hospitalizations increased 50 per cent over the last two weeks, according to the provincial data.
The hospital patient count reached 498 Thursday, including 64 persons in intensive care units. That was an increase of five from seven days prior, but those numbers were expected to rise with higher case counts.
Citing the example of his home province of Quebec, Duclos said 50 per cent of hospitalizations are due to people being unvaccinated.
He thinks mandating COVID-19 shots, going beyond a vaccine passport system limiting access to certain spaces and activities, should be considered.
“What we see now is that our healthcare system in Canada is fragile, our people are tired. And, the only way that we know to get through COVID-19, this variant and any future variant, is through vaccination,” Duclos said.
But Duclos added provinces will have the final say.
Kenney initially refused to bring in a vaccine passport system, as other provinces did.
He eventually approved a Restrictions Exemption Program, which restricts access to unvaccinated Albertans at participating non-essential businesses.
Some European countries have passed mandatory vaccination laws based on age, and others are considering it.