MONTREAL — Quebec's decision to expand its vaccine passport system to cover people visiting patients in hospital drew support from ethics and legal experts Wednesday.
"If you choose not to get vaccinated, and your loved ones need you, then make a better choice," said Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist who teaches at Université de Montreal and Harvard's medical school. "Because you are putting other patients at risk and the medical staff at risk. Your desire, your need to be next to your loved ones is totally understandable, but it means you need to change your choice."
On Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced that hospital visitors will be required to show proof they are fully vaccinated, with some exceptions.
Quebec's vaccine passport system, the first in the country, has been in effect since Sept. 1 and was introduced as a measure that would apply to services deemed non-essential, such as bars, restaurant dining rooms, gyms and festivals. Last week, Premier François Legault also made it a condition for journalists attending his news conferences, and sources told The Canadian Press the government is looking at requiring proof of vaccination to enter the legislature.
The passport measure has been met with criticism and fuelled many protests across the province over the past months. But a legal expert says the passport system appears to be justified, given the current pandemic situation and data showing the efficiency of the vaccine.
Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal-based human rights lawyer and adjunct professor at McGill University, said extending the vaccine passport to people visiting patients in hospitals might raise initial concerns, but the chance of a court challenge succeeding strikes her as limited.
She said a court would likely consider it to be a reasonable measure, provided that it can be shown to be justified and "acceptable in democratic societies."
"That’s the test," she said in an interview. "It will depend to a large extent on the epidemiological data about the effect of the vaccine. And right now, we have a lot of strong evidence showing that, in fact, it’s extremely effective."
Ravitsky said use of the passport will allow for safe hospital visits, which were strictly limited during the earlier waves of the pandemic. She said having families surrounding a sick loved one is a critical element of the cure.
"We saw it during the first wave when hospitals were in lockdown and patients were alone, and no visitors were allowed, the impact on the care of patients was really bad," she said in an interview. "It’s not just about, 'Oh I want to see my grandmother or I want to be next to my brother,' it’s also that patients need this."
The government, however, needs to be careful in distinguishing those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons from those who simply choose not to, Ravitsky said. She said people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons need to be part of the government exceptions for visiting patients.
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 600 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and three more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus. The number of hospitalizations increased by seven to 178, with 71 cases listed in intensive care, a rise of three.
Of the new cases, nearly 85 per cent were not adequately vaccinated, according to the Health Department.
Health authorities said 18,593 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered on Tuesday, including more than 11,000 second doses.
The province's public health institute said 87.8 per cent of Quebecers aged 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 82.3 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2021.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press