Ontario to lift vaccine mandates on March 1

Ontario is preparing to lift the mandate on vaccine passports and other capacity restrictions on March 1, as COVID-19 related hospitalizations decline.

According to the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, the justification for having individuals show proof of their two doses upon entering restaurants, bars and gyms has diminished over time due to the number of Ontarians being fully vaccinated.

“It’s a pretty easy win for the government. We’re already mostly vaccinated anyways, and anyone else who wants to get vaccinated has already. Getting people to show their passport isn’t going to change anyone else’s mind,” Stephanie DeWitte-Orr, the associate dean of research and graduate studies for the field of science and associate professor of health sciences and biology at Wilfrid Laurier University, said.

Along with getting rid of the vaccine passport, the Ontario government will lift current capacity limits of 50 per cent at restaurants, bars and gyms to full capacity, and gatherings of up to 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors will be permitted.

“Epidemiologically, SARSCOV2 seems to be [have] a two-month peak where it emerges and explodes, and then comes back down, so right now, we’re in the come back down, which is great! As long as a new variant doesn’t come up, we’re okay, maybe for a little bit, like this summer,” DeWitte-Orr said.

The two-month curve of COVID-19 infections and vaccine efficacy show providing proof of vaccination wasn’t a sustainable system long-term, reflecting the decision to lift the mandate.

“I think this is a very nuisance decision. There are a lot of factors like vaccine efficacy. We have a lot of people with two vaccines in Waterloo––it’s almost 90 per cent. We’re [also] at 50 per cent for three vaccines. Then, of course, there are socio-political tensions happening right now. People are getting tired of these restrictions, and there are economical and mental health implications of keeping restaurants and gyms closed,” she said.

Although Ontario could have brought a three-dose vaccine mandate, it was challenging with the high number of Omicron infections, as people had to delay getting their booster shot. However, since 90 per cent of Ontarians ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated, the mandate is no longer necessary.

After having two vaccines, “you still have about 44 per cent protection after 25 weeks, and then if you get the boost, it goes back up to 88 per cent, so it is really good to have the booster,” she said.

From a Public Health perspective, having two doses of the vaccine still offers quite a bit of protection, and in combination with decreasing hospitalizations, the government can relax restrictions against the Omicron variant.

“The vaccine has cross specificity, so even though it’s derived against a strain (Delta) that no longer exists or is not circulating anymore, there’s enough overlap between that strain and Omicron that we’re still seeing a good amount of protection,” DeWitte-Orr said.

Even though the vaccine prevents severe illness from COVID-19, there may be mixed reactions of excitement and nervousness from Ontarians as safety measures are lifted.

“I would still be careful because if you follow all the curves for this virus, it doesn’t go straight down to zero. Yes, it’s going down, but it’s not gone,” she said.

Additionally, it’s essential to think about the risk factors involved.

“You have to think about your risk factors: Are you vaccinated, are you not? Do you have preexisting health conditions, or are you generally healthy? There are also the risk factors of the people you share a home with: Do you live with someone who is elderly? What kind of risks are you willing to accept? Because COVID-19 is circulating, it’s still around, and it still can kill you,” DeWitte-Orr said.

These risk factors are essential to consider, but at the same time, many people are anxious to get back to some “normalcy” in their lives.

“Everybody’s tired––everybody. I’m exhausted and don’t even want to think about COVID-19 anymore, but keep following Public Health guidelines and make your decisions based on your risk factors. A thing might be okay for somebody, but the risk they’re willing to take might not be okay for you, and that’s okay too,” she said.

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