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Lessons learned from the pandemic

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When COVID-19 vaccines start being distributed across Canada, we trust and believe that the inherent decency of Canadians will be on display.

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That there will be a broad public understanding and agreement that those most at risk should be at the front of the line.

This will include patients in long-term care homes — who have been at the tragic epicentre of the pandemic in Canada — health care workers, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems, first-responders and those in essential jobs.

Also, people living in the hardest-hit communities, where there are severe outbreaks.

But while we encourage every Canadian to get a vaccine when they become available, no one should ever be forced to take it.

We don’t know of any politicians or health care officials in a position of authority advocating that.

Yet the more controversial issue will be what happens if people refuse to take the vaccine and, for example, want to visit an elderly parent in a long-term care home.

In that circumstance, it would be reasonable to require them to wear personal protective equipment in order to minimize the risks to those living under care, health care workers and other families visiting relatives and friends.

A more controversial area will be what happens in schools if parents refuse to have their children vaccinated.

Those situations will have to be decided carefully and on a case-by-case basis.

As a general rule, school boards have a right and obligation to keep their classrooms as safe as possible and that will best be achieved if the vast majority of students and teachers are vaccinated.

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But this could be a struggle. Long before COVID-19 arrived, some school boards, such as those in Chatham-Kent, were finding that sometimes hundreds of their students had not received a basic vaccination against common childhood diseases.

It’s also time to start codifying how future epidemics and pandemics will be handled in Canada, based on what we’ve learned through hard experience in this one.

While it’s difficult to think of it now, there are going to be future epidemics and pandemics, given Canada’s experience of the SARS epidemic in 2003, and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Because our governments failed to heed the advice of experts emerging out of those outbreaks — for example, on issues such as stockpiling personal protective equipment — this pandemic has been much worse than it otherwise had to be.

We can’t afford to make the same mistakes again.

– Postmedia News

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