Vaccine 'passports' in the works in Quebec, says minister, despite concerns globally and from Trudeau

The idea of giving citizens “passports” proving they've been vaccinated is controversial around the world, and in Ottawa—but less so in Quebec, whose health minister said Thursday that the province is going full steam ahead on the idea.

“The goal is easy,” said Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé when asked about passports at a press conference.

Passports would be “quite helpful,” he added later. He said it’s natural for people who are “enthusiasts” about getting vaccinated that they’d want proof, and businesses are calling for it as well.

“I heard many enterprises that said they would like to be able… to open their doors if they had the proof that the people inside [had been vaccinated],” he said.

Thursday marked the first day of Quebec’s mass vaccination campaign, and 100,000 people made appointments in a single day, Dubé said.

The province has already asked its information technology staff and public health experts to work on the passport idea, Dubé said.

Years ago, the province sent out proof of vaccination during the H1N1 pandemic, Dubé said, and this time it’s looking at the kind of digital codes that people can show from their phones.

“We are in the digital world, and I don't see why we could not have… what we call the QR code that we have on our boarding pass when we fly,” he said. “So I think it's just normal that we go there.”

However, he also said he expects people most want vaccine passports to be able to travel, not to go about their daily lives in Quebec.

“It's used, especially, I would say, mainly [by] people who want to travel… because the other side, in the other country, they can ask you ‘Have you been vaccinated?’” he said.

He admitted there are some other “best practices” to take into account when allowing vaccination proof to be used in the community.

Later Thursday, opposition party Quebec Solidaire told media they felt Dubé was jumping the gun on an issue full of ethical concerns that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agrees, based on comments he made in mid-January.

“I think it’s an interesting idea, but I think it is also fraught with challenges,” he said in a video interview at the time.

“We are certainly encouraging and motivating people to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. But we always know there are people who won’t get vaccinated, and not necessarily through a personal or political choice. There are medical reasons, there are a broad range of reasons why someone might not get vaccinated,” Trudeau continued.

“And I’m worried about creating knock-on undesirable effects in our community. The indications that the vast majority of Canadians are looking to get vaccinated will get us to a good place without having to take more extreme measures that could have real divisive impacts on community and country.”

Around the world, a debate over the idea of vaccination passports is raging, with many countries falling on both sides. 

Israel, which is ahead of the pack in its mass vaccination numbers, has already begun to use passports to allow people to go about previously forbidden daily activities like the gym. Some Nordic countries are among other enthusiasts.

But many other countries are saying no for now, with some considering the idea only for international travel.

The World Health Organization, meanwhile, is against the idea of vaccine passports for public health reasons, reminding the public that it’s still unclear how much vaccines reduce COVID transmission, even though they protect the vaccinated from becoming sick.

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