With coronavirus vaccinations now underway in Quebec, the province’s health minister is floating the idea of a so-called “COVID-19 passport” — digital proof that people have gotten the jab in order to access venues or activities.
“We are in a digital world, I don’t see why we could not have … what we call a QR code,” said Christian Dubé during a press conference on Thursday.
The idea of an immunization passport giving people a ticket to ride has been around for years.
Some countries demand proof of vaccination for certain diseases such as chickenpox or yellow fever before entry.
But in a Feb. 5 statement, the World Health Organization shut down the idea, in part saying there are still too many unknown factors.
“There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission,” the statement reads in part. “Considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.”
Université de Montréal bioethics professor Vardit Ravitsky says demanding proof of vaccination to enter a country is understandable and precedented. “But to demand that I show an app on my phone with my private medical information to get into a supermarket, into a pharmacy, to go see my family — that’s without precedent and I think this is a violation of some basic liberties,” Ravitsky said.
Ravitsky adds it could also be a discriminatory practice.
“It’s very dangerous because it opens the door to discrimination,” says Ravitsky. “We’re going to create two subgroups in the population– one that benefits from more liberties, more access and one that’s more penalized.”
The notion of COVID-19 passports also raises issues for Daniel Weinstock, a professor at the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy.
“I think there’s a whole host of practical and ethical considerations that we really have to keep in mind before we go forward with this idea,” Weinstock said.
Weinstock says an example is if people are told they can’t head back to their job until they have a vaccination certificate.
“You open up the risk of a contraband market of people going for counterfeit vaccination certificates as a way of dealing with what might be for them a desperate situation of joblessness,” Weinstock explained.
Given the many possible implications, and that vaccination is not mandatory, some experts say a COVID-19 passport could open the door for a constitutional challenge.
“Only I suspect it might be unsuccessful,” said constitutional lawyer Julius Grey. “In other words, a court would find there was a violation of the Charter but it’s justifiable under section 1. It’s not something we’re prepared to set aside the program for.”
The province says it’s still working on the concept.
“The province is well equipped with a vaccination registry and the next step would be to transfer the information digitally,” said Marjaurie Côté-Boileau, a spokesperson for Quebec’s health minister. “We will do things in order. Work is underway and we will be very transparent in each one of the steps.”
Côté-Boileau added that COVID-19 restrictions will be loosened according to public health recommendations.View link »