There is no province in Canada that has made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those who are eligible, but at a Friday media briefing, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos floated the idea.
“What we’re seeing now is that our health care 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.
“Fifty per cent of hospitalizations now, in Quebec, are due to people not having been vaccinated,” he added. “That’s a burden on health care workers, a burden on society which is very difficult to bear and for many people difficult to understand.”
He emphasized that Ottawa won’t mandate vaccines and that it will be left to the provinces to decide whether to implement mandatory vaccination policies.
Though Duclos predicted, mandatory vaccination policies by the provinces are likely in the coming months as the Omicron variant causes COVID-19 cases to surge.
“That’s why I’m signaling this is a conversation which I believe provinces and territories, in support with the federal government, will want to have over the next weeks and months.”
There have been no discussions between Ottawa and the provinces about mandatory vaccination policies, Duclos added.
He said there were up to seven million eligible Canadians still unvaccinated.
Duclos noted the provinces are facing a perfect storm of record-setting COVID-19 case counts and a shortage of health care workers.
“What we do is provide vaccines, tests, personal protective equipment,” he said. “We can provide tracing support, we can provide all sorts of other non-human resources types of assistance.”
Quebec has already announced further restrictions on the unvaccinated. Beginning Jan. 18, Quebecers will need to show proof that they are fully vaccinated in order to enter government-run liquor and cannabis shops.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said on Friday that vaccination is a personal choice that individuals make, though he strongly encouraged those who are eligible to get immunized.
On Friday, Ontario reported a record 2,472 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 338 patients were in intensive care, of which 232 were not fully vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown.