Human rights commission wants cautious approach to COVID-19 vaccine cards
'Let's be careful about putting up barriers that may exacerbate challenges,' says commission director
The Manitoba Human Rights Commission urges caution in the wake of the province's plan to issue COVID-19 immunization cards to people two weeks after they get their second vaccine dose.
"Although getting vaccinated is great, we have to take into consideration not everyone has equitable access to vaccines; that some people can't be vaccinated," acting commission executive director Karen Sharma said Friday.
The MHRC said requirements for people to provide proof of vaccination for work, access to public services or housing could potentially discriminate on the basis of disability, religious belief, political belief, social disadvantage and age.
On Tuesday, the province said double-vaccinated Manitobans who acquire immunization cards will be allowed to return from other provinces without being required to self-isolate.
People with two doses also may visit vaccinated people in personal care homes and hospitals. Double-vaccinated Manitobans were already exempt from quarantine if they were exposed to a known COVID-19 case but had no symptoms.
Premier Brian Pallister alluded to more freedoms that may come with proof of vaccination.
"The sooner that we can get as many people as possible double-vaccinated, sooner we can get some of these things back into our lives like group events," Pallister said Tuesday.
Sharma said since that announcement, the commission has been "inundated" with calls from people expressing concerns ranging from employers potentially asking for proof of vaccination to what might happen for kids who are not yet 12 and able to get vaccines.
"There's still a lack of clarity, right?" she said. "I think everyone wants to get back to life as usual…. but we're really not sure what that future might look like yet," said Sharma.
"Let's be careful about putting up barriers that may exacerbate challenges of equality for certain communities."
Also of concern to the MHRC is Manitoba's vaccine lottery, which plans to offer cash prizes and scholarships to people as an incentive to get vaccinated.
Under Manitoba's Human Rights Code, government, employers and service or housing providers have to ensure such incentive programs don't infringe on equality rights.
"We're going to have to come up with creative solutions and think with an equity lens in mind," Sharma said. She said consultation with the MHRC is possible if proof-of-vaccination requirements are being considered.