Health Minister Patty Hajdu says that Canada “needs to be part” of the coronavirus vaccine passport conversations currently underway around the world, as some other countries begin to plan for vaccination-certified travel outside their own borders as early as this summer.
“It’s very important that we’re involved in those conversations,” Hajdu told reporters in a Friday press conference.
She explained that having a seat at those tables – where many discussions are already well underway – is a key part of ensuring that Canada isn’t left in the dust as other countries resume safe international travel.
“Canada needs to be part of those conversations, first of all, to have influence at those tables in terms of how that might unfold, but also to make sure that Canada is not left behind if the world embarks on a new requirement for international travel that requires some form of health certification,” Hajdu said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also noted on Wednesday that the idea of mandatory vaccination isn’t a novel concept for Canadians who hop on a flight headed beyond the border.
“The idea of certificates of vaccination for international travel exist already (and) are well established,” Trudeau said, pointing to the jabs Canadians receive for “tropical diseases” before travelling to some sunny destinations.
Still, neither Trudeau nor Hajdu provided any specifics on what the government is doing now – if anything – to prepare for such certificates or passports for Canadians who have gotten their COVID-19 vaccines.
Meanwhile, researchers for the Canadian Medical Association Journal wrote last week that vaccination passports are “imminent” for international travel. The EU, for example, is charging towards having a vaccine passport system in place to allow safe travel between its 27 bloc nations as soon as this summer.
Experts are warning that these efforts could force Canada’s hand when it comes to whether the government is prepared to provide Canadians with adequate proof of their vaccinations.
“Our ministers tell us they’re on it. But how does Canada keep from falling out of the loop on this? That should be the priority,” said Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, in an interview with Global News on Wednesday.
“This is not something we need to consider for 2024. This is going to be on top of us in no time,” he said.
As the conversations continue, another key discussion has bubbled up within the country itself. Questions of whether proof of vaccination should be required for activities within Canada, whether it be eating at a restaurant or attending school, are prompting both ethical and jurisdictional headaches.
“Obviously, there are settings where vaccination is required already to participate. For example, schools in certain health-care settings — people must show vaccination against certain illnesses. And those are all largely provincial decisions,” Hajdu said.
She added that provinces and territories are “deliberating about those kinds of decisions that are coming their way.”
However, as with the patchwork of education and health-care systems across the country, Canada could end up with a similar patchwork of domestic vaccination requirements for various activities – something experts warn could be both laborious to develop, and frustrating in practice.
“Canada is really in a tough position because if we have multiple systems emerging simultaneously, it’s going to be chaos,” Bowman said, speaking in the context of the vaccination certificates for travel.
“There’s going to have to be some kind of standard.”
Trudeau also highlighted that these certificates could create unfair roadblocks for those who are unable to get vaccinated.
“The idea of certificates of vaccination for domestic use, to decide who can go to a concert, or who can go to a particular restaurant or engage in certain activities, does bring in questions of equity, questions of fairness,” he said.
“There are some people who, because of medical conditions or other reasons, will not be able to get vaccinated. There are others who are not on priority lists who will have to wait much longer before getting vaccinations. These are things that we have to take into account.”
Hajdu echoed the concern.
“I share the prime minister’s concerns, though, about passports or some proof of vaccination for participation in everyday life in Canada,” she said.
And as Canada reckons with all these considerations, other countries are charging ahead with their certification efforts – prompting experts to urge Canada to get a move on.
“When you’re vaccinated in Canada right now, you’re not left with an app or code that can later be used in other ways, at least not widely,” Bowman said.
“If suddenly we’re in a scramble to get vaccination passports for international travel, does Canada even have the infrastructure to do this? I don’t know.”
— With files from Global News’ Rachael D’Amore