Coronavirus: Vaccine passport talks should prioritize equity in economy, ethicist says


TORONTO – The issue of vaccine passports is a widespread issue with the potential for discrimination, and should be addressed with an emphasis on fairness over economic benefits, says a bioethicist.

“(Passports) have the potential to worsen the inequalities that we see with COVID, because we know that the people hardest hit by COVID are actually the least likely to be vaccinated in some cases at this point,” University of Toronto researcher Alison Thompson told CTV of Your Morning on Monday.

“We really want to make sure that access to vaccines has been equitable and not only accessible, but also that we have reached the communities that need them most.”

There is a growing debate in the United States over whether businesses and employers can and should require proof of vaccination in order to speed the return to normalcy. The White House has said it will not impose a national passport, but the idea of ​​increased access for the vaccinated has started to materialize, with some sports venues allowing access to people with proof of vaccination.

Vaccine passports are even more advanced in Europe, where the UK is currently conducting a trial of ‘COVID status certificates’, which could allow freer travel and allow access to certain events. The European Union is considering a “digital green certificate” which would allow free movement across borders.

According to Thompson, sports venues, airlines and other private companies could face legal problems in Canada if they follow suit, even if she sees the ethical issue as the top priority.

“Let’s be very careful to say that we need it for economic recovery and to forget about some of these social inequalities, and the potential for discrimination here is also great,” she said. “From a legal standpoint, it remains to be seen whether or not they can do it. the question is whether they should do that.

Research shows that the pandemic has hit a certain populations in Canada more difficult than others. Low-wage workers suffered the brunt of the economic lockdowns, and areas with large visible minority populations suffered higher death rates. There has also been criticism that the vaccine rollout has not prioritized high-risk populations.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that all Canadian adults who want a vaccine will have one by September, the slower pace of vaccinations in other parts of the world is making things difficult for many of the hundreds of thousands of people. immigrants that Canada welcomes each year.

“There are 85 countries that won’t even get vaccinated until 2023, and is it fair to demand that people get vaccinated when they don’t even have access?” Thompson said.

As of Sunday, about 19% of the Canadian population had received at least one dose of the vaccine.

The question is also when children will be vaccinated and whether, at some point, COVID-19 vaccinations will be required to attend the in-person learning. Although vaccine manufacturers have started testing young children, no vaccines are currently authorized in children under 16 in Canada.

The issue of school vaccination seems less of an ethical minefield, as children are already required to be vaccinated in some provinces, including Ontario. Thompson said that by the time children are vaccinated en masse, it is likely that the vast majority of the adult population will also be vaccinated, meaning there will be fewer benefits to having a passport. More generally, she expects that it will be some time before the passport issue can be successfully addressed in Canada.

“We need to have this conversation and it’s great that we’re doing it now, because we’re hoping it’s a year or so away from making it a fair requirement for people,” she said.

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