A charity working to improve the health of Black communities says Quebec’s proposal to bring in a financial penalty for unvaccinated residents risks further entrenching inequities in Canada’s pandemic response and eroding trust in the government.
Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday the province is working on a health-care “contribution” that would be charged to all adults who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
His government is still working out the legalities, but said the financial penalty will be “significant.”
That could be a problem for people who have been hesitant to receive the vaccine because of historic and present-day injustices, or face systemic barriers to accessing the vaccine, said Black Health Alliance executive director Paul Bailey.
“We know that can further undermine public trust in governments or just the confidence in the vaccine, period,” Bailey said in an interview.
As of Jan. 1, 2022, 87.6 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and older had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But provinces do not keep socioeconomic or race-based data about who has or hasn’t received a full slate of shots.
Several health equity experts say there is evidence some have fallen through the cracks.
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A report by the Black Opportunity Fund, African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council and Innovative Research Group found a 20-point gap between white and Black Canadians who had received at least one vaccine dose between May 18 to June 4, 2021, according to a survey of 2,838 respondents.
Because it was an online survey, a margin or error cannot be calculated.
“In parts of the country, let’s say in places like Toronto and Montreal, there are particular populations — black, racialized, low- and very low-income — who have high COVID burden and lower COVID vaccination,” Bailey said.
“We know that they’re already living with the spectre of poverty and many other inequities, whether it be food insecurity, housing insecurity. And so for this specific population, applying a tax to them only further entrenches those inequalities.”
He suggests instead that provinces emphasize proven measures of fighting vaccine hesitancy by engaging with people in a culturally responsive way.
In some parts of the country, community ambassadors and leaders have teamed up with local public health workers to answer peoples’ questions about the risks and benefits of the vaccine.
“We know that works,” he said.
He said governments should focus their time and funds to prioritize policies that respond to the actual problem of existing systemic inequities and a lack of confidence in the vaccine.
A tax would only set those efforts backwards, he said.