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Vaccine Mandates: Does Omicron Change Everything?

Richard B. Johnson

Co-Founder + Partner
January 21, 2022

Starting with the Government of Canada, last fall business large and small across Canada began introducing vaccine mandates for the workplace. The logic was simple: in addition to significantly reducing serious illness and death, vaccines were also highly effective at reducing infection and transmission of the Delta variant. Yes, breakthrough cases existed, but if a workforce had a high or universal vaccination rate, the risk of a serious workplace outbreak would be minimized.

By October and November, employer vaccine mandates were becoming increasingly widespread. While these policies were controversial, and many employees were very vocal in their criticism of the constraints on personal liberties, many employers viewed the benefits of protecting the health of their workforce and the public to outweigh individual costs.

With December came Omicron exponential COVID case counts. This variant is different from its predecessors for several reasons, including:

1.      It appears to carry less serious health implications;

2.      Our current vaccinations are proving ineffective at preventing transmission; and

3.      Vaccinations continue to reduce the risk of serious illness and death.

For workplaces, the second point is particularly relevant. According to a recent study funded by the Canadian Immunization Research Network and the Public Health Agency of Canada:

[R]eceipt of 2 doses of COVID-19 vaccines was not protective against Omicron. Vaccine effectiveness against Omicron was 37% (95%CI, 19-50%) ≥7 days after receiving an mRNA vaccine for the third dose.

A third mRNA vaccine dose only offered 37% effectiveness in preventing spread, and two doses was not protective. This compared to three doses being 93% effective in preventing spread of the Delta variant.

In these circumstances, are vaccine mandates still justified? If the central motivation for vaccine mandates was to prevent workplace outbreaks, on what basis do these policies continue to stand when the assumptions upon which these policies were created no longer hold true?

For clarity, I fully support vaccinations. They are free, easy and most importantly they continue to reduce serious illness and death, freeing up vital healthcare resources. However I also believe that business policy should be rooted in business, and not a method of propagating personal beliefs. While I recognize businesses also have an interest in reducing the severity of illness, the primary motivation for mandates has been to reduce spread and the disruption and risk that it brings to the workplace.

When the facts change, we need to adjust our opinions. Mandates may have been the right decision a few months back, but a different approach may now need to be called on as we battle this staggering forth wave.

Call us to discuss how we can be of assistance through these changing times!