No to lifting plane vax rules

Re. Dan Albas column Is it time to drop vaccine passport for air travellers? (Castanet, May 19)

Dan Albas (MP for Central Okanagan–Similkameen–Nicola) asks in his May 19 report: "Do you believe it is time for the federal government to lift the vaccination requirement for train and air travel or is this something you would like to see remain in place?”

My reply is no.

Albas says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reversed his stance against vaccine passports and used them as a wedge issue during last year’s pandemic election.

This is just Conservative Party spin, designed to appeal to those who are anti-vaxxers and libertarians.

Even though provinces and territories have reduced or eliminated certain restrictions, the COVID-19 virus hasn't gone away. Last week, Canada reached a grim milestone. The total number of COVID-related deaths in Canada is 40,000 plus.

"While the government continues to insist it is 'following the science,' it has shown no such documentation to support the continued enforcement of this exclusionary policy,” wrote Albas.

The science data continues to show being fully vaccinated and wearing a mask offers additional layers of protection against COVID-19.

A fully vaccinated person can still get COVID-19. But as Dr. Lisa Miller (professor of epidemiology and Associate Dean for Public Health Practice at the Colorado School of Public Health) wrote in February: "The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that hospitalization rates are 16 times higher in unvaccinated adults compared to fully vaccinated ones, and rates of death are 14 times higher."

She added: “What is there to take away from all this? Most importantly, vaccination greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by many times.”

Several studies have concluded wearing masks aboard a plane can decrease the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading. In August 2020, simulations looking into aerosol spread of COVID-19 aboard Boeing jets found that when passengers wore surgical masks, the reduction in droplets from coughing was more than 90 per cent.

A May 2021 U.K. study looked at the probabilities of inflight COVID-19 infection in an experiment conducted aboard a Boeing 777. For a 12-hour flight, researchers calculated that wearing high efficiency masks—such as N95s—can reduce the average probability of infection by 73 per cent, while low efficiency masks can reduce infection by 32 per cent. However, the effectiveness of these masks goes down when factoring in mealtime.

Last month, University of Saskatchewan epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said airplane HEPA filters are only active if the plane's engines are on. During boarding, deplaning and refuelling (when engines are off) these filters don't offer any protection. Muhajarine believes removing the mandates for passengers would be "hugely unadvisable".

Even if you are the only one on the plane wearing a mask, Dr. Amesh Adaja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, says "one-way masking" can still help reduce your risk of catching the virus, especially if it's a well-fitted high efficiency mask, such as the N95.

As Albas seems so eager to see the vaccination requirement for train and air travel eliminated, I have two questions for him:

"Mr. Albas: You admit to being fully vaccinated.

1. If the vaccination requirement was eliminated tomorrow, how comfortable would you feel (on a scale of 0 to 10) travelling by air with a full load of passengers, if you were the only one vaccinated?

2. If the mask requirement was also eliminated, would you still wear one? Why or why not?"

David Buckna, Kelowna

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