Montreal

Quebec's vaccine passport plan sparks some worry, but experts say it's necessary

Many are worried about data security and how the system will be enforced. Others say customers may be hostile when told they can't enter without a passport. But experts say it's crucial people get vaccinated quickly as a fourth wave is looming.

Opposition says 'clear guidelines will have to be put in place' to manage a vaccine passport system

Quebec's Legault government says proof of vaccination will be required to access certain services if a fourth wave hits. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Nearly 70 per cent of Quebec's population has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but Roberto Wakerell-Cruz isn't among them.

Nor is he among the 83 per cent who have received at least one dose.

However, the threat of losing access to non-essential services like gyms and restaurants in the near future hasn't convinced him to get a shot just yet.

"I think eventually they're going to get a better vaccine," said Wakerell-Cruz, an editor at the conservative news website The Post Millennial. "I'm more willing to take it when that happens."

He says he's concerned about things like the initial extended delay between doses in Quebec and that the vaccines lack full approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (the delay in Quebec was approved by medical experts and the FDA has granted "emergency use authorization" to the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines).

But Quebec Premier François Legault is done waiting for people like Wakerell-Cruz to get vaccinated.

If the recent rise in COVID-19 cases swells into a fourth wave, proof of vaccination will be required to access non-essential services, he announced on Thursday.

Legault said these vaccine passports will allow non-essential businesses to stay open.

The announcement appears to have already convinced thousands of people that delaying getting the vaccine isn't worth it.

More than 11,500 people signed up to get their first shot on Thursday, according to Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé. 

He said that number is double the total from other recent days. 

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz says he's waiting for the vaccines to be fully approved in the United States and for Quebec to speed up the wait time between shots before he gets inoculated against COVID-19. (CBC)

For several months, the province has been issuing QR codes, or quick response codes, to vaccinated people.

These codes, which can be printed or stored on a mobile device, are scanned to pull up information about a person's vaccination status. Legault said details on the new passport system will be released soon.

Worry over data security, angry clients, enforcement 

However, concerns are brewing across the province and not just among those opposed to vaccines. 

Many are worried about data security and how the system will be enforced. Others say customers may be hostile when told they can't enter without a passport.

"We are impatiently awaiting the terms of this proposed vaccine passport," said Québec Solidaire spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in a statement.

Gyms would be accessible only to people who are fully vaccinated under a vaccine passport system in Quebec. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

His provincial party would have liked to have debated passports first, the statement says.

"Clear guidelines will have to be put in place to avoid mistakes and protect the personal data of citizens," said Nadeau-Dubois.

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases expert from the McGill University Health Centre, is concerned about how the passports will be implemented by business owners.

"Are there going to be incentives for business owners to use it? Or punishments or penalties if they don't use it?"

The concern, he said, is that some business owners won't want to screen people entering their establishment. This, for him, would defeat the purpose of the vaccine passport, he said.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said his organization will be watching to make sure the rules are fairly enforced.

He said there are certain groups that are hesitant to get vaccinated and he wants to know what the consequences of non-compliance will be.

WATCH | Vaccine passport 'necessary intervention,' says Quebec specialist

Vaccine passport 'necessary intervention,' says Quebec specialist

3 months ago
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Quebec's announcement of COVID-19 vaccine passports is timely because cases are rising, says Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist in Montreal. 5:42

Restaurant owners eager to stay open

For Quebec's restaurant association, vaccine passports are a lesser of two evils.

"We would have preferred not to deal with it," said Dominique Tremblay, spokesperson for the association. "But between closing again and vaccine passports, we'll go with vaccine passports."

Tremblay said the association is concerned about extra labour for staff — and angry clients.

"They're going to scream and be angry at the employees directly," she said.

Daniel Loureiro, who co-owns Helena restaurant in Montreal, said he understands there are concerns in the community, but people need to get vaccinated.

He said his restaurant will follow the rules, and given how many people are already inoculated in Quebec, he does not think business will be hurt by the passports.

"I'm expecting people, when they come into the restaurant, to be really nice, showing their passport," said Loureiro.

Customers have put up with all the measures currently in place and this, he said, is "just another step."

Protests planned, but experts say passports necessary

Québec Debout, a group that has been organizing protests against the province's public health measures, is planning another one in Montreal this weekend.

Thousands of people have responded to the group's Facebook event, which calls the vaccine passport an "unprecedented prejudice for the population" that is "highly discriminatory."

"We must say no together," the group says.

Regardless of the pockets of opposition, experts say now is the time to push the population into getting vaccinated.

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist from the Jewish General Hospital, said vaccine passports could be an incentive to get vaccinated and it's important that people get inoculated. 

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist, says he wants to know how the vaccine passport will be implemented. (Submitted by Sandra Sciangula)

"That would position us very well as a society, to protect us against large outbreaks," he said.

Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said she wishes everybody could understand the effectiveness of the vaccines. 

But, with the recent rise in cases, she said vaccine passports are now necessary.

"Because of delta, we have to be strategic," she said. "It's time to do it now."

Clarifications

  • Roberto Wakerell-Cruz is an editor at the conservative news website The Post Millennial. This story was updated to include this fact.
    Aug 06, 2021 12:32 PM ET

With files from Radio-Canada, Sarah Leavitt, Eric Dicaire and Lauren McCallum

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