Jason Kenney slammed for comparing COVID-19 vaccine 'stigma' to HIV/AIDS as Alberta eases restrictions

·5 min read
Jason Kenney slammed for comparing COVID-19 vaccine 'stigma' to HIV/AIDS as Alberta eases restrictions

Jason Kenney’s Alberta government announced the province’s plan to ease COVID-19 public health restrictions.

“The last two years have taken a significant toll on Albertans’ overall health, social and economic well-being,” a statement from Kenney reads. “Now that we are through the worst of the fifth wave and have achieved high vaccination rates, it is time to shift to a balanced approach where we are able to live with COVID-19 and return to normal.”

Effective Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m. local time, Alberta has removed the Restrictions Exemption Program.

“In Canada right now, vaccinated people are almost as likely as unvaccinated people to experience a breakthrough infection,” Kenney said at a press conference on Tuesday, adding that vaccines are “hugely effective" at preventing severe outcomes.

“A program originally designed to reduce transmission amongst unvaccinated people doesn’t make sense in a context where we have such a high level of breakthrough infections.”

The premier added that the only way a proof of vaccination program would make “practical sense” is if there was a requirement for the public to get a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but stressed that only 43 per cent of the eligible population in Alberta has that third shot.

“That’s 60 per cent of the population that would not be eligible to participate in discretionary activities, and then what happens if we see, six or 12 months from now, waning protection from breakthrough infections from a third shot,” Kenney said. “Would we then modify the program to require that people have a fourth shot?”

“I think it’s quite likely that for the rest of our lives, we’re probably going to need to take an annual COVID shot, much like the annual flu shot… This could become a permanent feature of our lives, I think that’s completely implausible.”

Also as of Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m., capacity limits have been removed for venues under 500 capacity, including libraries and places of worship. Albertans are allowed to consume food and drinks in seated audience settings at large event and entertainment venues. Existing restrictions on closing times, alcohol service, table capacity in restaurants and interactive activities remain.

Venues with capacity of 500 to 1,000 people are limited to 500, and venues with capacity over 1,000 are limited to 50 per cent.

Effective Feb. 14, mandatory masking for children in schools and for kids age 12 and under will come to an end, for all settings.

Beginning March 1, Alberta will make the following changes to its restrictions, based on hospitalizations continuing to decrease:

  • Provincial mask mandate will be removed

  • Mandatory work from home removed

  • Limits on social gatherings will be removed

  • Capacity limits will be lifted for all venues

  • Remaining provincial school requirements (including cohorting) will be removed

  • Screening prior to youth activities will no longer be required

While there is no specific date outlined by the Alberta government for additional easing of rules, the March 1 changes will be followed by COVID-19 measures in continuing care settings removed and mandatory isolation will become a “recommendation.”

“We are at a stage where it’s clear our vaccine numbers, our first and second dose, are frozen,” premier Kenney said. “We’re just stating the obvious and acting on that.”

Criticism after comparing HIV/AIDS to COVID-19

The premier said that one of the things that concerns him most is the “division” and “polarization” during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to differing opinions on policies, including vaccination. He said “protests” and reaction to these demonstrations is an example of those divisions.

“People saying, 'well I don't want to go to a restaurant and have to sit next to somebody who's unvaccinated,' that sentiment deeply concerns me,” the premier said. “Treating fellow people as those they are somehow unclean.”

Kenney went on to say “stigmatiz[ing]” people who are are unvaccinated reminds him of the “attitudes” that circulated about people with HIV/AIDS, specifically in the 1980s.

“There's this notion that they had to be kind of distanced for health reasons,” the premier said.

Several people took to social media to call out the premier for this comparison, with several individuals calling out Kenney's history of working to overturn the first same-sex spousal law in North America.

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