Should vaccinated people across Canada get certain freedoms? Here’s what health experts say

Ontario health officials are asking people who are vaccinated to continue following COVID-19 safety rules until more people get inoculated — but some health experts say Canada’s vaccinated population should get some freedoms, including socializing indoors without masks and physical distancing.

This comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that America’s more than 30 million fully-vaccinated residents could meet indoors without masks or social distancing.

“I think it’s the reasonable and right thing to do,” said Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Sinai Health Toronto, who also sits on Ontario’s science advisory table.

“I don’t think we should be committing the entire population to the same restrictions because not everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated. One of my fears in all of this is we may try and be too Canadian and say, ‘If we can’t all do it together, then no one should be doing it at all,’ and I think that’s actually a bad approach here.”

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Read more: No masks, no distancing: U.S. CDC says fully vaccinated people can gather indoors

Stall adds that the U.S. has tens of millions of people fully vaccinated compared to Canada’s 600,000. Canada has also recently announced that intervals between vaccine doses could stretch up to four months.

Stall argues that even one dose could allow people to return to some normalcy.

“I will say that the emerging evidence does show that immunity is pretty good after one dose,” he said.

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Government officials have been postponing making any commitments to whether or not vaccinated Canadians will get to enjoy certain privileges, like socializing indoors without masks and physical distancing or seeing other family members.

On Tuesday, Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, said public health guidelines will loosen when more people are vaccinated — but Canada isn’t there yet.

Read more: Guidelines for vaccinated Canadians will only evolve ‘when safe,’ Tam says

Meanwhile, on Monday, Ontario health minister Christine Elliott encouraged the province’s vaccinated population to keep following the COVID-19 safety guidelines for the near future.

“All of that is going to be important until people receive both doses of the vaccine,” said Elliott.

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But infectious disease physician Zain Chagla argues the loosening of rules for inoculated individuals will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Read more: Some Ontarians will soon be able to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments at more than 300 pharmacies

“You have to attach an incentive,” he said. “I’m glad (the CDC) put out something to actually probably use to leverage people to get vaccinated.”

Chagla also believes seniors and personal support workers at long-term care facilities who have been vaccinated should be allowed to socialize with one another and especially with children, who are believed to be at lower risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“So letting that face-to-face contact happen, letting social activities happen in long-term care, getting rid of the loneliness, knowing people have been so, so devastated by this,” Chagla added.

Read more: Senior Canadian scientists question government plans to delay 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccine

Meanwhile, Anna Banerji, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, believes that vaccinated individuals are going to enjoy freedoms whether the government allows them to or not.

“If we don’t give guidelines around people who are vaccinated against COVID and give some concessions, people are going to do what they want anyways eventually,” she said.

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“People are so tired from not engaging.”

But some, including a behavioural scientist and bioethicist, argue that allowing vaccinated people more freedoms than those who are not inoculated will create a ‘have and have not’ scenario, excluding the majority of the population.

“It really is about understanding the right messaging to give them hope and then giving them the space to come along on the ‘COVID-journey,’ so that everyone can see themselves reflected in the progress,” said behavioural scientist, Laura Desveaux.

“We have to find a way forward that is as just and fair as we possibly can,” said bioethicist, Kerry Bowman.

“If we have large amounts of the population that really don’t represent a risk to other people, it would be very unjust to limit their freedom.”

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