Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday March 11, 2021
Vaccination passports: a long, tortuous road
Prepare for the next COVID-19 controversy: vaccine passports. The idea that vaccine, or immunity, passports will need to be developed and implemented manifests in two major ways. They can be loosely defined as domestic and international.
For the purpose of international travel, Canada won’t have much choice but to adopt vaccine passports. Countries around the world have already started down this road, including Israel and several European countries. Denmark and Sweden announced last month they are developing digital passports. President of the European Commissions Ursula von der Leyen tweeted March 1 that a proposed “Digital Green Pass” would help EU citizens move around safely. The pass will include a record of vaccination, or failing that of a negative COVID-19 test.
And Canadian airlines are already asking for the government to make vaccine passports part of the plan for reopening international travel.
So Canada needs to decide, and fairly soon, if it wants to be part of this worldwide movement. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed misgivings. He worries, as do many, about the potential of some people being unfairly and unintentionally targeted, such as people who cannot be vaccinated for reasons of immunosuppression. Others worry the passport may stigmatize those who, for whatever reason, choose not to get vaccinated.
These are legitimate concerns, which is why this subject will only become more contentious over the coming weeks and months. Notwithstanding Trudeau’s concerns, Health Minister Patti Hajdu has said the government is having “very live” discussions with international partners. All things being equal, some form of international travel vaccine passport is pretty much inevitable, and those who don’t have one won’t be travelling.
The contentiousness only gets thicker when you consider how this will apply domestically. Will provincial governments want proof of vaccination for interprovincial travel? That is relatively easy to police through airports, but what about land crossings? Given the Constitution guarantees Canadians freedom of movement, not just those vaccinated, how long until a legal challenge is launched? Might some provinces simply say you are not welcome unless you are vaccinated? (The likely answer is yes — look at the Maritime bubble.)
It’s not just about travel, either. Consider major events. Will those organizing football, hockey, basketball, concerts and graduations and the like want a virus-free environment? The only way to ensure that is through record of vaccination. So is someone who isn’t vaccinated precluded from attending?
Consider it at the individual level. If you are making a reservation with friends at your favourite restaurant, surely you are entitled to ask if the restaurant has restrictions for unvaccinated patrons. Even though you are protected, you could still carry the virus and pass it to unprotected people, such as your unvaccinated parents, friends and kids.
Consider small to medium-sized businesses, already struggling through pandemic restrictions. At some, vaccinated patrons may demand proof of safe passage. If five per cent of the business’s customers refuse vaccination, will the business have to write off their business? Can they afford to do that given the financial pressure they are already under?
It’s headache-inducing. If everyone who can safely be vaccinated is, the problem will be dramatically reduced. But we know that isn’t likely to happen, that even with vaccine hesitancy reduced, a percentage of the population will stubbornly refuse. How the rest of us relate and interact with those people poses new and thorny challenges. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)