As Canada ramps up its vaccination efforts across provinces, the government tries to determine the best options for a gradual return to normalcy
The United States and the European Union have started outlining what fully vaccinated people can and cannot do, especially when it comes to international travel. While vaccinated Canadians are not granted special freedoms thus far, the Trudeau government is closely monitoring the idea of “vaccine passports.”
The concept of an immunization passport has already been in use well before the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, many nations require international travellers to show proof of vaccination, particularly against yellow fever, polio, or meningitis.
This time, however, vaccine passports might also be required for daily life activities even within Canada.
Israel, currently the most vaccinated country in the world against COVID-19, has already defined privileges for vaccine passport holders. Those who present a green pass on their smartphone are allowed to dine in restaurants and exercise in gyms, as well as attend mass sporting events.
“I really wanted to get the vaccine to finally be able to enjoy the country,” said Ora Bar, a Concordia student currently living in Tel Aviv. She added, “If you want to go to a restaurant and eat indoors, you need to have the pass. Without it, I couldn’t even enter to go to the restroom.”
Officials in the United Kingdom are also developing COVID-19 passports, which would show that a person has received either the vaccine or a recent negative COVID test, or has gained partial immunity after contracting the virus in the last six months. Later this April, such proof may be required to safely attend soccer stadiums, concert venues, and nightclubs.
However, in the U.S., immunization passports have become a controversial topic fuelling political and ethical debates. Currently, 47 per cent of Americans are opposed to government-sponsored COVID passports, while a violation of privacy and freedom has been the most common concern raised by the general public.
On April 2, vaccine passports were banned in Florida as Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order that prohibited all businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from their customers. A few days later, he was joined by Texas Governor Greg Abbott who also outlawed such measures in his state.
“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives … Don’t tread on our personal freedoms,” stated Abbott on Twitter.
Meanwhile, New York became the first U.S. state to implement a digital vaccine passport. If one were to attend a baseball game, a play or a wedding reception, they would be required to show their vaccination papers. Now, New Yorkers can simply present a QR code via Excelsior Pass, an IBM-powered application available on both Apple and Android for free.
As for Canada, it is still too early to be thinking about relaxed COVID-related restrictions even for vaccinated Canadians, according to Justin Trudeau. The prime minister has made it clear that “we’re still in the middle of a very serious third wave.”
The Trudeau government is primarily focusing on mass vaccination instead of the freedoms that fully vaccinated Canadians can enjoy. So far, over 770,000 Canadians have received both doses of a COVID vaccine, making up just two per cent of the population.
As of April 9, Canada’s vaccination levels are far below those of Israel, the UK, and the U.S. — where 61,47, and 33 per cent of the population has received at least one dose, respectively. This category stands at 20 per cent in Quebec (and just over 17 per cent nationwide), suggesting it may be too soon to focus on the post-pandemic life.
Nevertheless, Health Minister Patty Hajdu confirmed that Canada has actively discussed the concept of vaccine passports with fellow G7 countries, focusing on international travel in particular.
“The G7 partners agreed that there needs to be some consistency and some collaboration among the countries, so we have some kind of system that would be recognizable, no matter where a person was travelling,” Hajdu explained last week.
When it comes to using vaccine passports domestically for everyday activities, Trudeau has so far refrained from officially implementing such a system, saying it raises questions of equity. Since the majority of Canada’s population is currently ineligible to get the COVID vaccine, the government is only monitoring the passport’s efficiency worldwide.
“These are things that we have to take into account so that yes, we’re looking to try and encourage everyone to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, but we’re not discriminating and bringing in unfairness in the process at the same time,” stated Trudeau in March.
While COVID-19 vaccines remain optional in Canada, the country’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam also strongly encourages Canadians to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible.
Once a larger share of the population receives both doses of the vaccine, Canadians can expect to have more specific guidelines for those who are vaccinated, along with a plan for a gradual return to ordinary life in Canada.
Graphic by Taylor Reddam