MONTREAL — As Quebec began booking appointments Thursday for its expanded COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the province’s health minister said he’s in favour of vaccine passports for those who have been fully inoculated.
Christian Dube was asked at a news conference whether such passports could be used to allow access to entertainment venues or restaurants. He said yes, drawing a parallel to the time of the H1N1 flu when people were required to provide proof of vaccination before boarding flights.
“We’re in digital world, I do not see why we could not have a QR code, like on a boarding pass when we fly,” Dube said. “For me, a digital vaccine passport is normal, and we have teams that are looking into it.” He said he has heard from businesses that would like to be able to check for proof of vaccination before letting people in.
The notion of vaccine passports has been debated around the world as vaccinations have increased, but it has also raised ethical issues about possible discrimination.
Quebec solidaire member of the legislature Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois criticized Dube’s response and urged the government to tread carefully.
“The potentially discriminatory effects of a ‘vaccination passport’ are considerable,” Nadeau-Dubois wrote on Twitter. “It’s not just about taking a plane or dining out, serious questions arise about access to housing, the right to work, to name just these two examples.”
Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, said he would not want such a passport to be seen as a free pass.
“One of the dangers is that we say we’re vaccinated and we end up in a free-for-all,” Arruda said. “We know it’ll protect you, it’ll decrease your risk of complications, but it won’t necessarily stop transmission to someone else.”
So far, only about four per cent of Quebecers have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Dube said Moderna has confirmed a shipment for March and the province expects to receive 700,000 doses in total, so it will be able to begin providing second doses as of March 15, falling within the 90-day limit the government set out in January.
Inoculation is set to ramp up next week with vaccinations for anyone 85 and up in the Montreal area beginning Monday and elsewhere on March 8. In the Montreal suburb of Laval, some people in the designated age group were already getting shots Thursday.
Dube tweeted at the end of the day that close to 100,000 people had signed up for appointments on the first day, and he said there were just minor issues with the online platform and phone booking system.
Quebec has reported 858 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths attributed to the virus. Hospitalizations declined by 22 to 633 and there were eight fewer patients listed in intensive care, for a total of 122.
In total Quebec has reported 285,330 confirmed cases and 10,361 deaths attributed to the virus, with 266,879 people listed as recovered.