Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon says it is clear now that mandates like the Restrictions Exemption Program are not as effective against the current COVID-19 situation. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA Jason Nixon says it is clear now that mandates like the Restrictions Exemption Program are not as effective against the current COVID-19 situation. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Central Alberta MLA Jason Nixon calls to end vaccine passports in Alberta

Central Alberta MLA Jason Nixon is calling for an end to vaccine mandates in Alberta.

Nixon, House leader and Environment and Parks Minister, said that mandates like the province’s Restrictions Exemption Program are no longer effective in the fight against the virus.

“I am not a doctor, so like many I have relied on the advice of doctors for the past two years. Mandates were brought in at the recommendation of health officials to deal with a very serious situation and protect our hospital system while keeping businesses open,” the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA said in a statement Thursday.

“But it is clear now that mandates like the Restrictions Exemption Program are not as effective against the current COVID-19 situation as much as health officials expected.”

Premier Jason Kenney said earlier this week that the REP could end as early as March, given the situation in Alberta’s hospitals improved before that time. On Wednesday, UCP caucus chair Nathan Neudorf said in a statement that “Alberta will be lifting restrictions very soon, likely within days, starting with the REP.”

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw in her twice-weekly COVID-19 briefing on Thursday was pressed on whether she thought it was a good idea to end the program given the current state of the province’s hospitals.

“Decisions around policy are the purview of elected officials. The choices about timing and how it is implemented are theirs to make as they consider all of the factors that are part of their considerations,” she said.

“I would urge all Albertans because of the strain that our healthcare systems is under, to continue making decisions that protect the health care system and protect our communities.”

She wouldn’t share what advice she has provided to political leaders about a potential end to the vaccine passport program, but did say she believes the program has been effective.

“The Restrictions Exemption Program was put in place in September in the midst of our fourth wave with a dramatic surge of Delta which was causing very significant strain on our acute care system, in particular ICUs,” Hinshaw said.

“We saw that with the implementation of the Restrictions Exemption Program, our vaccine coverage rates went up very significantly.”

Alberta NDP Health Critic David Shepherd said that the province must provide evidence if it does plan to remove the REP.

“The premier must address Albertans to present the data and advice from public health officials his cabinet is using to make critical decisions on public health orders, and allow professional public health officials to express their views without political interference,” he said.