The federal government’s chief science adviser will release a report in the coming weeks with recommendations on whether and how Canada should implement COVID-19 vaccine passports.
Proof of vaccination, or vaccine passports, is a key issue countries are contending with as they try to chart a path out of the pandemic. In some countries, proof of vaccination may be required to travel – similar to the way a negative COVID-19 test may be a requirement to board a plane – but it can also be necessary to access events and services at home.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appeared lukewarm to the idea, but his government is in talks with international partners and provinces and territories about the possibility of introducing them. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Chief Science Adviser Mona Nemer said the thorny issue presents scientific and ethical questions to her COVID-19 expert panel.
“A lot of countries and organizations are moving toward some sort of vaccination record,” she said. “So I think it’s going to be out there. The question is what should it be used for.”
Public opinion research published by Peter Loewen, through the Public Policy Forum, shows a slim majority of support for the use of vaccine passports in Canada. For example, in an online survey, 55 per cent of respondents said vaccination should be a requirement at universities and public schools.
Looking at different sectors in Canada, such as child care, education and non-essential services, Dr. Loewen said support for the requirement is “in most cases a majority but not a huge one.”
In February, Israel launched its Green Pass, which gives people who have received both the required doses of vaccines access to things such as music venues. They are valid for six months from the time of full vaccination. The country is a world leader in vaccinations, with 46 per cent of Israelis fully vaccinated.
The European Union said last week it would introduce legislation for a Digital Green Pass that will show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test, with the aim of allowing people to “move safely in the European Union or abroad.”
But Canada is still considering its options and, on Sunday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CTV’s Question Period that they are not inevitable.
Dr. Nemer cautioned that the science is not yet clear on the justification for a passport, including whether vaccination prevents someone from transmitting the virus and how long immunity lasts. It also has the potential for unintended consequences because it will disadvantage people who have not received their shots and grant more freedoms to those who have, she said. That issue is amplified because most Canadians have not yet received their shots because of scarcity rather than choice.
“In a situation where we’re unable to provide vaccination to a large number of people in the country, is it fair to limit the access of certain type of activities or places to people who are vaccinated?” she asked.
On the flip side, she said, officials need to be concerned about the message sent to individuals who get their shots if the vaccinations don’t lead to a change in what they are permitted to do. There’s a risk they could stop following public-health measures, she added.
“There needs to be clarity of goals and the uses of all this,” Dr. Nemer said. She said she hopes to complete her report, which will be made public, in the “coming week or two weeks.”
In Quebec, the government said last month that it is studying the possibility of a vaccine passport for its residents. At the time, Mr. Trudeau said he’d heard “pros and cons” for the idea and that the government was looking to its public-health experts for advice before making a decision.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner declined to provide her party’s stand on the issue but urged the government to make clear what it intends to do. She said the government should release its benchmarks for the number of people who need to get their shots before restrictions can be loosened.
On Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party is against implementing vaccine passports in Canada.
“I don’t think that that is the solution,” Mr. Singh said. “I don’t know how that is actually going to help Canadians.”
With a report from Reuters
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