What happens to those who refuse vaccinations?
Will a "covid passport" preserve your privacy? The debate around these questions has been ongoing for some time.
As the number of fully vaccinated Canadians steadily increases and the country itself gradually returns to "pre-pandemic" life, an important topic is increasingly being raised in Canadian society: what about those people who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated? Moreover, it is not at all clear how to find a balance between public health and individual freedom, and whether the former should be abandoned in order to protect the latter.
Finding answers to these most pressing questions of our time is becoming increasingly important as quarantine measures are relaxed.
Why do I need a vaccination passport?
This is a document that is becoming increasingly important for most institutions and agencies in the country. If the holder of the vaccination passport can prove his/her immunisation with it, then he/she can also enjoy specified public freedoms.
On the other hand, what about people who will not be able to provide such evidence because they cannot or do not want to be vaccinated? Does this mean that they will not be able to travel by air, apply to the necessary agencies, enrol in universities...? And this is by no means a complete list of inconveniences to come...
Two-tier society — what are the dangers?
Last month, the province Manitoba announced it will provide immunization cards to citizens who have been fully vaccinated. This will allow them to travel within the country without having to self-immunize when they return. In May, Western University in London announced that it would require students living in residence halls to also show proof of their immunization.
Also in May, Health Minister Patti Haidu told CBC News that her government is already in talks with its G7 allies to implement a vaccination passport to allow immunized Canadians to resume international travel.
But Canadian ethicists, privacy advocates and civil liberties groups warn: such requirements threaten to create a new two-tiered society. Certainly it will benefit those who have been vaccinated. But it will also drive out those who have not.
As of June 25, according to the latest data from the federal government, three-quarters of Canadians aged 12 and older have already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 22% of Canadians are fully vaccinated.
To understand the situation and explore the potential pitfalls of covid passports, CBC News gathered the opinions of several important experts.
A question of justice.
For Arthur Schafer, founding director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, having a vaccination passport or "certificate of immunity" is already a settled issue. But, he says, the federal government has "fallen hard" because it hasn't provided clear guidance to provinces and health officials on how to manage these documents.
"If we encourage people to get vaccinated and promise them that vaccines are safe and effective, then it just doesn't make sense to say that everyone will have to obey the same rules, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. As it is, we are turning everything into a mishmash. We would be much better off if we thought about and developed policies that protected fundamental values: privacy, confidentiality, freedom and public health," Shafer said.
The professor fears that most agencies and organizations will dictate their own rules.
Why do many people refuse vaccinations?
The debate over the use of vaccination passports is heating up as more and more people get vaccinated. Some say that the introduction of mandatory "covid passports" will be a good incentive to stop being afraid of shots and return to normal life. Others, on the other hand, see this document as a drastic infringement on the freedom and privacy of citizens.
There are several main reasons why people refuse to get vaccinated. Some are unsure whether to vaccinate because, for example, they are taking immunosuppressants. And others have legal concerns to doubt the safety and effectiveness of poorly studied vaccines. Some already have negative experiences with Canadian medicine and do not want to repeat them.
According to Schaefer, a way out of this situation could be found: "We (i.e. the state) should try to accommodate people who have objections, conscious, scientific or even religious. Then we can introduce vaccination passports into circulation without compromising public safety and without disproportionate costs".
The issue of confidentiality
In May, Canada's federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners issued a joint statement warning that while vaccination passports "can provide significant benefits to society, the measure is an infringement of civil liberties. And it should be withdrawn only after careful consideration."
According to former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian, Canadians should not be expected to give up their privacy for public health.
Cavoukian is concerned about what might happen to people's personal health data as part of the introduction of mandatory "covid passports. She is seriously worried that all personal data "will now be stored linked to your geolocation around the world. If you're travelling or going to a football match or anywhere else, any information about you will be tracked. And the potential for surveillance is enormous.
Immunization cards have long been commonplace in many countries for accessing certain health services, but now they will be required not only for international travel. But also, for example, even for visiting restaurants.
Like Schafer, Cavoukian worries that such a system would alienate a minority of Canadians, many of whom have personal good reasons for refusing vaccination. And those reasons they won't want to voice.
Concluding her interview, Cavoukian observed, "The rest of us will relax when most Canadians are fully immunized. When that happens, then it won't seem so important for us to be able to particularly single out those who have refused to be immunized.
At least one Canadian province already agrees that everyone has a right to choose. And it shouldn't be sacrificed for the public's benefit: on Wednesday, Saskatchewan announced it will not require proof of vaccination from residents who want to return to work or attend public events. In doing so, one official said requiring such proof would violate the province's Health Information Protection Act for its citizens.
The question of freedom
Cara Zwiebel, Director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association's Basic Liberties Program, says that it should come down to individual choice: "The choice to immunize should be a true individual choice. But there comes a point where we only give access to certain rights and full participation in public life to those people who are immunized. And this is already becoming a form of coercion. You have to be vaccinated because you chose to be vaccinated, not because you were forced to be vaccinated.
According to Zwiebel, "The idea that you have to show proof of vaccination everywhere you go is fundamentally changing the society we are members of."
"I think we need to abandon the idea of creating a coronavirus-free space," Zwiebel continued. We need to try to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible and avoid overload situations in hospitals. But unfortunately, I think COVID is just another risk that we now have to live with all the time."
Like Cavoukian, Zwibel has serious concerns about the proliferation of private health information. However, she notes that while we may voluntarily turn over our vaccination records to certain institutions, they are legally restricted in its future use. To summarize, Zvibel suggested that society should think carefully about where that path might lead before going down the road of global population control.
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