Vaccines are a key component in stopping the spread of COVID-19, protecting people’s health and recovering from the pandemic. The Communist Party of Canada has consistently called on governments to place people’s needs ahead of business interests and take decisive action against COVID-19, including full vaccination, to be achieved through access, education and engagement.
Clearly, however, federal and provincial governments have prioritized profits over people. They have consistently opened up sections of the economy before it was safe – and entirely refused to close others, such as mining – and, in process, have cost lives and facilitated the spread of the pandemic. From the beginning, corporations and their mouthpieces in government have used vaccines as cover for rushing to reopen the economy and return to profits.
In this narrowly focused drive, urgent issues such as equity have been pushed aside. A report released in April by the Wellesley Institute, for example, concluded that the Ontario government was “not distributing vaccines in an equitable way to areas with racialized populations and low-income neighbourhoods.” Data from Statistics Canada in July shows that this inequity has not been confined to Ontario, and that its effects are widespread and serious: vaccination rates lag among poor people, racialized people and young people. These groups include a large proportion of frontline workers, particularly in the low-paid and precariously employed hospitality and retail sectors.
A big section of unvaccinated people is unable to get vaccinated, so mandates and passports will not help them. These are children who are being crowded back into underfunded schools across the country as transmission rates rise. Only increased funding to schools, reduced class sizes and proper ventilation will help them, and the response has been inadequate across the country. Governments are content to let COVID rip through schools and let children get sick, since the death toll will be “manageable” and double vaccinated workers can go to work. That’s what matters to capitalism.
Rushing to open the economy without decisively addressing this inequity puts huge numbers of these people at risk of contracting COVID-19, losing their jobs and income, or both.
This is the real backdrop to the current debate around vaccine mandates and passports.
The Communist Party strongly supports vaccination against COVID-19 and is not opposed in principle to vaccine mandates. We condemn the attempts by far-right “anti-vax” forces to manipulate this divisive issue for their reactionary purposes. However, the implementation of passports and mandates alone is not a sufficient solution to the pandemic, particularly given the widespread problem of vaccine inequity and the unwillingness of governments to take decisive action which puts people’s needs and safety ahead of profit.
Rushing to lift COVID restrictions under cover of a passport, without taking action to address vaccine inequity, is a simplistic approach which risks widening and deepening social and economic inequities that already exist. Instead, full vaccination needs to be achieved through decisive action based on full access, education and engagement. Furthermore, vaccination campaigns need to be implemented alongside continuing emergency measures to confine the pandemic and stop community transmission, including extended and increased income supports for working people.
This should also include giving much greater governmental support to the COVAX program, including the provision of vaccines, instead of draining vaccines from the program, which should be used in less developed countries around the world. Containing and defeating this global pandemic in only some countries while allowing it to fester and mutate, giving rise to new variants in other countries, is hardly a solution for the crisis.
The only way to recover from this pandemic is to place people’s needs before profit.