Vaccine passports are here for the long haul

By their nature, governments are not in the game of relinquishing power – only amassing it. It’s increasingly clear vaccine passports aren’t going to be an exception to this rule.

I asked Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at a press conference last week what the target is for getting rid of his province’s “restriction exemption program” (Alberta’s euphemism for vaccine passports). Kenney was remarkably candid – there isn’t one.

“We have not defined a particular criteria to end the program,” he said. “I fully expect that we will have it in place through at least the first quarter of next year, because we are headed into an uncertain period.”

The possibility of waning vaccine immunity and winter case spikes are sufficient to keep the passport in place even if things look good in the short-term, Kenney said. One can infer from his comments that not even a higher vaccination rate would render the program obsolete (which would seem to defeat the purpose of it).

While Kenney said the program is a resounding success, my limited experiences with it have me unconvinced.

I was out in Calgary a little over a week ago speaking, ironically, about vaccine passports at a Canada Strong & Free Network conference. After the conference wrapped, the organizers and speakers attempted to go out for dinner. We all dutifully had our vaccine receipts or test results at the ready, but the restaurant supervisor wouldn’t admit one of my colleagues because he thought there was something fishy about his British Columbia vaccine passport.

It was no fishier than anything else from British Columbia. The issue was that it didn’t have the dates of the doses on it, because in BC the government simply verifies that you’re fully vaccinated then gives you a digital pass with your name and a green checkmark. Such simplicity didn’t fly at this Calgary eatery (we went to the joint next door instead).

It’s easy to write these stories off as growing pains. Some might even say they justify establishing a nationalized vaccine passport, though baking this further into our existence is not the answer.

I won’t extrapolate too much from a power-drunk restaurant host, except to say that this episode reinforces that for the vaccinated, vaccine passports turn what are supposed to be simple experiences into frustrating – and frankly creepy – ones. For the unvaccinated, they close off large chunks of society altogether.

Whatever you may think of those who choose not to get vaccinated, for how long is it justifiable to ban them from restaurants, planes and trains? Three months? A year? Forever?

Moreover, what does it say that so many in western society are willing to embrace an indefinite suspension of rights?

A few weeks back, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was working on putting a temporary vaccine passport for travel in place by December, which he estimated would be around for a year – as in, until 2023 – before a long-term option was ready.

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With no sunset clause for these mandates – and not even an aspirational metric that would welcome an end – there’s no reason to trust vaccine passports will not become permanent fixtures in our lives.

If the infrastructure and will are in place, vaccine passports could easily be expanded for annual flu shots, as well as impending COVID vaccine boosters.

Before you cast this off as a conspiracy theory, remember that vaccine passports themselves were conspiracy theories – until they were public policy.

Israel has already effectively devaccinated its citizens, requiring them to get third doses to reclaim their ‘green passes’, which allow them to access supposedly non-essential venues.

Is that going to be North America’s reality too?

When I put that question to Kenney, his answer could best be paraphrased as “Well, not yet.”