Russell Pangborn

What is it like being first on a crucial issue that involves a dilemma between individual rights and the public’s right to safety during a devastating pandemic? Andrea Horwath, the leader of the NDP, thought she knew with a policy statement on mandatory vaccines. She came down against, and then quickly reversed her stance after a backlash. Ontario premier Doug Ford who was sounding like he was taking the same route learned from that and declared all members of his caucus should get vaccinated or get turned out.

But, who did it first? A few months ago in June the President of Seneca College, David Agnew, sent an email that stated any person on campus would have to be fully vaccinated. Students, professors, admin, and support staff had been given lots of notice for September. Stepping out that early took a lot of courage. Several months later other schools followed suit. It looks like the public is fed up with the lockdowns and misinformation on how to battle this pandemic, and leans towards safety and recovery for all of us versus individual rights. Canadian society has decided that sometimes the common good requires a shared sacrifice. That means getting a vaccine and wearing a mask when appropriate.

Seneca’s mandate allows for medical and religious exemptions for getting the vaccine. My department is essentially online in September so we may have anti-vaxxer professors or students who can avoid the vaccine and continue as Senecans. I understand medical exemptions but have difficulty understanding religious ones. If the central religious authority supports a vaccination does a breakaway sect merit the same consideration?

Seneca is also showing leadership by going all in on vaccinations. Some companies are allowing testing as an alternative. The president of my college argues testing is not going to defeat the pandemic, so our college is not accepting frequent testing. Seneca also must have gotten some dubious exemption applications in the past few months. In The Toronto Star Agnew recently stated: “Human rights legislation obliges us to offer vaccination exemptions on the basis of creed. That right has been twisted by a fringe that uses social media to promote pseudo-science and selfish individualism claiming constitutional cover.” He ends the article with a strong statement: “If you want to come on a Seneca campus as of Sept 7, you must be vaccinated. Full stop.”

All that remains is locking down proof of vaccination. A friend of mine who is a talented graphic designer was approached by someone who wanted a fake vaccination document. That is going to be a problem. With a government issued one backed up by a quick lookup in a database, it is possibly a difficult crime to pull off.

Humans have done all of this before. A lot of the anti-vax arguments are the same as the ones launched against the smallpox vaccine. Governments of that era resorted to mandatory vaccines and society was able to wrestle deadly smallpox to the ground. Thanks to our ancestors there is one less disease we need to worry about.

Our duty today is to take the punch out of Covid.