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Papers, please

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Jody Vance: The next big divisive pandemic debate is about vaccine passports. They’re either a no-way or no-brainer.

Vaccine envy. It’s real and spreading (ironically like a virus) with no clear end in sight. But as divisive as Canada’s vaccine rollout has been, I fear that debate will pale in comparison to the next (and hopefully final) chapter of COVID-19.

Already ahead of the game in terms of getting its population vaccinated against COVID-19, Israel has introduced a Vaccination Passport. Issued by its health ministry, it allows holders extra freedoms to higher risk public places and spaces, including swimming pools, gyms, hotels, and cinemas.

People who have been vaccinated, and those who have recovered fully from a government-confirmed case of COVID-19 simply call *5400, confirm qualification and then receive their “passport” as a download, email ,or letter in the mail. It serves as proof of inoculation, and more to the point, as an all-access pass back to daily life.

The first obvious pushback is that it creates tiers. Freedom for some, while others are stuck waiting. It’s a clear-cut separation of the haves and have-nots; the vaccine patients vs the impatient unvaccinated.

The second pushback is what seems to my eyes like too-easily forged documents.

The Israeli government doesn’t seem too fussed about the first objection, and have made the punishment for forged green passports severe, including criminal charges and possible jail time.

Canada is clearly not Israel.

Right now, I’m sure many of us would gladly switch places with Israel’s pace of vaccine rollout; some 50% of its 9.5 million citizens have been vaccinated. Here, our rollout has been stutter-stepping toward its goal of mass vaccination done by September. It feels a bit soon to ponder “then what,” but the debates are starting.

Once vaccinated in BC, will one receive a BC Health Immunization card – and what will that mean when it comes to higher risk social connections?

Researching this column, my biggest takeaway is that both sides feel it’s their way or the highway.

With The Middle as the goal, even if it was decidedly difficult this week, I asked a a double-barrelled question: how should we manage the reopening of society, and should vaccination status play a role?

Almost exactly half of my unscientific poll responded with: “open it, open it all.” The other half were no less vocal, saying “shut it down ‘til everyone has had at least a shot at a jab.” There’s common ground there, in unanimously wanting to cast off COVID restrictions ASAP.

The transition from here to there is where the passport might come into play – and if mismanaged, societal gaps will be glaring. We’ve already seen how shorted supply adds exponentially to many people’s frustration, anguish, and impatience.

So, what say you? Are you “hell yes, let’s passport” or are you “that is a human rights abomination?” There is very little in between.

An elder of mine hit me with his take, as someone who is head of the 80+ line, and pining to snowbird. He believes vaccine passports would not just be a good idea, but a great one: “Why not? Proof of vaccine should be enough for people to get back to it, simple as that.”

He wants it to be immediate. (He misses the guys at the pub!) His stance is “there should be vaccination zones, why would anyone have a problem with that?”

Trying to explain precisely why some would have a big problem with that was a feat.

To confirm just how “oh hell no” the opposite side of this debate might be, I posed the question to my human rights attorney friend: “this is an absolute NO, any requirement of proof of inoculation against COVID-19 violates our human rights.”

It’s hard to find Middle on this. We’re a different society than Israel; we’re all free or none of us are free. I believe our next step should come into play only once all BC residents have at least had the opportunity to be vaccinated. It means a few more months (at least) to hold the line until then.

So, here’s my Middle: yes to vaccination passports, but only after it’s been offered to and accessible to all.

Once everyone has had a shot at the shot, it’s fair game. Those unable to be vaccinated (as opposed to those unwilling) should receive a passport with an official government stamp.

Proof of vaccination is a great tool, but trouble can come with the privileges it confers. Let’s not rock that boat, this storm has been tough enough.

SWIM ON:

SWIM ON