Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Opinion: Could local pubs implement ‘vaccination badges’?

Here’s a prediction on a hot new consumer trend for 2021: vaccination badges.

Up until now, government – not the private sector – has been setting most of the terms for how Canadians go about their pandemic lives.

The whole idea of vaccination passports may reverse this reality, as businesses build recovery plans over the next few months on the basis of “safe” and “unsafe” citizens.

Justin Trudeau has been lodging his reservations about vaccine passports for weeks now, worried that they will lead to all kinds of unfair classification of Canadians.

“The idea of certificates of vaccination for domestic use does bring in questions of equity,” the prime minister said late last week. “There are questions of fairness and justice. There could be discrimination.”

Those are high principles, to be sure, but the hard truth is that vaccinations are already making some citizens more equal than others. While governments have to worry about big things like fairness and justice, businesses and employers need a safe, practical restart, and that will almost certainly require sorting people according to their vaccination status.

While your local pub might not be able to set up sections for vaccinated and unvaccinated patrons – kind of like the old smoking and non-smoking areas – they could prioritize their reservation systems to favour clients who have received the shot.

Airlines, which already base their fares on what you’re willing to pay for comfort and convenience, could create surcharges for travellers who are unvaccinated, arguing that such people create additional burdens in terms of service and distance requirements.

Landlords, who aren’t allowed to discriminate by race or gender, could easily add a provision to leases requiring tenants to be vaccinated. Apartments and condominiums could add immunization conditions for people to use shared amenities in a building.

Several companies have already cropped up here and abroad, offering cheery little “I’ve been vaccinated” buttons for people to purchase. Custom Buttons Ottawa advertises that it would be delighted to create and ship badges for all those who want to tell the world they’ve received the shot.

“Now as the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out, health networks and hospitals are rushing to us for VACCINATED buttons,” the company says in a blog post.

At the private retirement home in Ottawa where my mother lives, staff members wear green badges. This is basically a wearable vaccination passport, intended to make residents and their families feel more secure.

It’s not hard to envision a day, possibly weeks from now, when stores and restaurants will follow that example. People may start to make their shopping choices on that basis.

Social media channels are starting to fill up with selfies of people getting the needle in their arms, which serve a dual purpose: souvenir of a large life moment and evidence that the vaccine has been administered.

All of this will raise huge questions over what constitutes proof of vaccination and that’s where the government enters the equation again – or doesn’t.

The multitude of ways in which Canadians will be getting their vaccinations – private pharmacies, public vaccination clinics – makes it a bureaucratic nightmare to create any kind of official document.

It’s too late for that, at any rate, if any such document was going to be issued at the actual time of vaccination, since more than three million Canadians have already received the shot and millions more will do so in the days ahead.

Aside from his concerns about discrimination, Trudeau must also be aware that the introduction of a vaccination passport would be a task far too massive for any government to handle in Canada at the moment.

The added complication is that the science is not yet clear on just how safe citizens are after getting vaccinated. Businesses may want to arbitrarily decide that immunized Canadians are preferred clients to the nonimmunized, but governments can’t put an official stamp on that idea until lots more is known about how the virus gets contained.

Nonetheless, watch for all the savvy entrepreneurs churning out wearable vaccine passports in the coming months.

After a year of letting the government decide what’s safe and what’s not, this is where the private sector will be trying to blaze some pandemic exit trails.

Susan Delacourt is a National Affairs writer.

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