If you are among the large majority of Canadians who have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, you’re probably in favour of vaccine passports or COVID passes for activities and events involving a large number of people. A recent Leger poll revealed that 58% of Canadians surveyed supported the implementation of vaccine passports (or whatever else you want to call them) for all essential and non-essential activities. I am of the opinion that doing so might incentivize at least some of those who are hesitant to get vaccinated.

Given all the unknowns about the pandemic, the mingling of the vaccinated and unvaccinated is creating a tricky social and communal landscape. Several friends and colleagues who are fully immunized have expressed their reservations about socializing with the unvaccinated even in small gatherings. They’re either at-risk or have a family member who is, and don’t want to take a chance. Like 66% of those surveyed, they believe that we have a responsibility to get vaccinated unless medically exempt. So, they’re not feeling very friendly or compassionate towards those who are sitting on the fence or don’t want to be vaccinated.

As politicians refuse to make vaccines mandatory (even for health care workers) or implement COVID-19 passports for selfish reasons, it may soon be up to businesses and event organizers to make this tough but necessary decision. Contrary to what they say, it’s not your constitutional rights or privacy that these politicians are protecting but their votes. They’re just avoiding decisions that could make them unpopular and jeopardize their re-election. But irrespective of whether this becomes public policy or not, vaccination status is likely to lead to a trimming of the social list and polarize society.

As officials explore ideas about offering incentives (especially financial ones) for getting vaccinated, I believe requiring proof of vaccination for certain activities and removing barriers to immunization is the logical way to move forward. Improving access to vaccines is the right way to tackle the ‘equitability’ issue surrounding vaccine passports. Kudos to local authorities that are making huge efforts to take vaccines to areas where accessibility might be an issue.

One school of thought which says vaccine distribution can never be fully equitable and there is a slim chance of achieving it further strengthens the case for issuing immunization passports.

Those who are medically exempt can be provided with an exemption document to level the playing field.

At a time when the Delta variant has caused a global resurgence, protecting public health and well-being must take precedence over everything else. As our medical officials have said repeatedly, a healthy economy requires a healthy population.

Many small and medium businesses will not survive another lockdown. With a fourth wave almost certain this fall, vaccine passports could certainly help to avoid another health and economic crisis.

While Canada has done amazingly well so far, the slowing vaccination rate for first doses is a worrisome trend. Perhaps the reduction in cases, which is largely due to the immunization efforts, is lulling the unvaccinated into a state of complacency. Health passes could help to nudge them out of it!

Governments have a duty towards ensuring public health. Issuing vaccine passports (with medical exemptions) can do more good than harm in this regard. It’s not just about protecting the economy, but also about making people feel safer as they return to normal life. After all, knowing that people around are vaccinated will make us feel safer at work and might encourage more of us to go to ball games, concerts, movie theatres and other public events.

There will be lies and fakes as with all other government documents… but we are still required to have them… aren’t we?
Moreover, if vaccine passports are mandatory for international travel, and we’re going to need them and require visitors to Canada to have them, it does seem hypocritical not to implement them domestically.

All in all, the benefits of having vaccine passports seem to outweigh the downsides as we try to minimize the impact of a fourth wave.

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