Global health researchers say debates around vaccine passports raise ‘alarming’ ethical issues

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Is it ok to ask for proof of COVID-19 vaccine?
Global health and international development professors say implementing vaccine passports could lead to polarization and public health disengagement. – Aug 6, 2021

The recent announcement by Quebec’s government that the province will proceed with implementing a vaccine passport has sparked conversations about whether other provinces will follow.

“What is crystal clear is Delta variant has put great pressure on all of us and there’s quite a fear of a fourth wave. And what I think is going on now is there’s quite a scramble towards this,” said Kerry Bowman, a bioethics and global health professor at the University of Toronto.

Bowman says the threat of a potential fourth wave of COVID-19 due to highly transmissible variants is pressuring government officials to make difficult choices with sweeping consequences.

“The problem is making good, informed, evidence-based decisions under pressure is very difficult. What I worry about tremendously is this: it’s political and it’s emotional, there’s increasing polarization,” he said.

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Robert Huish, an associate professor in international development studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, has a grant through the Nova Scotia Health Coalition to examine and research the impacts of COVID-19 stigma and shaming.

“Now we are in what some hope to be the tail end of the pandemic and others are leery that it could be the beginning of the fourth wave. So, once again the chairs are changing on this deck, the pieces are moving and we’re interested to know of who is going to be excluded from the main public discourse,” Huish said.

He says exclusion can marginalize people to the point that they fully disengage from public health efforts to protect the broader community.

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“If you feel that the system isn’t working for you, public health isn’t speaking on your behalf, they’re coming up with orders that don’t apply, or that make you feel uncomfortable, you’re more likely to withdraw from engagement,” he said.

Huish says there are also privacy concerns when it comes to personal health information being divulged to people without formal training in confidentiality.

“It also becomes a privacy issue when private sector businesses are starting to wonder about your personal health issues and then basing their services on it,” he said.

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Huish says granting people civil liberties passed on vaccine passports or lotteries is a slippery slope with global consequences.

“Provinces like Quebec are now having lotteries to try to encourage more vaccines and even giving people in Quebec the chance for a third vaccine so they have the right to travel at a time when there are billions of people around the world who still don’t have their first dose,” Huish said.

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