Vaccine Passports: The Blurry Line between Privacy, Alienation and Public Safety
You are currently viewing Vaccine Passports: The Blurry Line between Privacy, Alienation and Public Safety
Source: JOEL SAGET/AFP via Getty Images

Implementation of vaccine passports is not a new phenomenon on the horizon. Countries have required proof of immunization against diseases like “yellow fever” for international travel. As the COVID-19 pandemic is still underway, and increasingly as vaccines are being made available to the public particularly in G20 countries, there appears to be a consensus among member countries to introduce vaccine passports for international travel.

However, consideration and implementation at this stage have tongues wagging over not only privacy issues relating to storage of personal health records and surveillance practices but the right to refuse vaccination. But where should the line be drawn? Walking that fine line between protecting public health and ensuring personal freedoms and privacy are not mutually exclusive.

Vaccine passports provide proof that a person has been fully vaccinated as a public health precaution to help prevent the spread of diseases. For example, in the case of yellow fever, a card called the “International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis” is issued to individuals who take this vaccine and is shown at the port of entry in countries that require it.

To avoid the further spread of COVID 19, some countries have introduced vaccine passports as a requirement for not only international travel but also to access public spaces and recreational activities. The European Union has begun implementing the EU Digital COVID Certificate regulation which allows EU citizens and residents to have their digital COVID Certificate issued and verified across the EU. The passport exempts anyone who holds it from being tested or quarantined when crossing the borders within the European Union.

In the United Kingdom, people would show proof of vaccination by using the NHS Covid Pass app in England. The NHS Covid Pass will allow fully vaccinated adults to avoid quarantine when they return from most amber-list countries.

On the contrary, the U.S. is ideologically and politically divided over whether to inoculate but the Biden administration has made it mandatory for the public sector and federal government workers to get vaccinated or they be made to test regularly.

Vaccine hesitancy has been the key driver for fueling the spread of the “Delta variant, which is currently the predominant strain of the virus in the U.S. While hairs are split over whether to mandate vaccination or not, New York on Monday became the first major U.S. city to launch a vaccine passport system.

Canada has the highest vaccination rate among the G20 economies with 82.404% of Canadians aged 12 and above have received at least one dose while 62.768% is fully vaccinated. Although health management is under provincial auspices, the federal government has introduced proof of vaccination requirements for foreign nationals seeking to enter the country in addition to negative test results acquired 72 hours and sent via the ArriveCan app before arriving in the country.

The federal government in addition revealed vaccine mandates for federal employees, workers in federally regulated entities and travellers on interprovincial trains and cruises. Public servants and federally regulated employees who refuse to take the vaccine for reasons other than a medical one, they run the risk of losing their jobs.

The measures will run alongside further decisions and directions the provinces may decide to take. The decisions have varied as some provinces have implemented or are amenable to the idea of vaccine passports while others are not. Quebec for example will bar unvaccinated individuals from entering non-essential public spaces such as bars, restaurants, and gyms beginning September1, and several universities are revising their notes to now make vaccines mandatory for in-person learning. The announcement of vaccine passports in Quebec received mixed reactions with opponents staging a demonstration in Montreal against the plan.

Manitoba has begun issuing immunization cards for people who are fully immunized, and Prince Edward Island has introduced a similar document called the P.E.I pass. The P.E.I pass will allow “returning islanders and visitors who meet the appropriate criteria to be exempt from self-isolation when entering the province”.

Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Saskatchewan have pushed back on calls to make vaccination mandatory to access public places. Ontario’s premier Doug Ford opposed vaccine passports saying, “he doesn’t want a split society”. On the flip side, some universities in Ontario including York University, Queens University, University of Guelph, Ontario Tech University, Western University, and the University of Toronto have made vaccinations mandatory for access to university services.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer has announced that the country runs the risk of entering a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as more variants of the virus have continued to spread. To prevent this from happening, more Canadians must get vaccinated lest the fourth wave of the pandemic could potentially box the country into another lockdown, leaving businesses shut down again, schools remaining closed, and putting immense pressure on health care systems.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has announced its support for vaccine passports as it would help prevent businesses from having to shut down if another lockdown were to ensue. They argue that the introduction of vaccine passports could act as an incentive for people to get vaccinated.

While businesses are in support of vaccine passports for patronage, its implementation could lead to discrimination and harassment resulting from differing vaccine statuses. “Ethicists, privacy advocates, and civil liberties groups have warned that such requirements threaten to create a new two-tier society, benefiting those who have been vaccinated and ostracizing those who haven’t”.

Should people suspend personal freedoms and privacy rights for the good of the public? While vaccine passports may provide significant public benefits, its implementation constitutes an infringement on Charter rights and civil liberties, and provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, should take into consideration before executing vaccination mandates to
avoid creating a two-tier society that profits those who have received doses and alienating the have-nots.

Leave a Reply