Quebec, Canada’s second-most populated province, has adopted a new step to combat the spread of COVID-19: a health levy on those who have not vaccinated. In a news conference on Tuesday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault warned that anyone who refuses to get vaccinated without a good medical reason “would have a fee to pay” – a decision he described as “a question of equity.”
“There are implications for our health-care system, and it is not the responsibility of all Quebecers to bear these costs,” the premier stated. “Right now, these people are putting a significant strain on our health-care system.” And I believe it is reasonable that the majority of the populace expects a repercussion.”
While the particular details are still being worked out, Legault believes that a tax of CA$50 or CA$100 ($40-$80 US) would be “insufficiently significant.” The levy would not apply to residents who have a medical exemption, but it would apply to all individuals in the province who do not receive their first dose of the vaccine within “the next few weeks,” according to the premier. The announcement has sparked debate, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noting on Wednesday that Ottawa was “watching with interest” the development.
According to local media, such a fee would be “one of the strictest COVID-19 health regulations in Canada,” but experts have raised worries that it would violate a crucial tenet in Canadian law: the idea that everyone should have equal access to healthcare, regardless of financial (or other) barriers. “I’ve never seen anything like this in Canada before,” said Danyaal Raza, a Toronto-based doctor and former chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. “I’m concerned about the precedent that would be established.”
Others are skeptical that the idea will operate as planned. Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethics professor, told CTV News on Wednesday that she was concerned that the tax will backfire and exacerbate disparities already exacerbated by the pandemic. “From an ethical standpoint, we’re attempting to choose public health measures that are as equal and just as feasible,” she explained. “This… is in violation of this principle.”
“I believe that increasing the pressure on vaccine passports would be more equitable than targeting individual pockets,” she continued. “$100, $500 could represent absolutely nothing to some families while being a huge hardship for others.” Nonetheless, as the Omicron variation spreads rapidly across Canada, Quebec’s health system is beginning to feel the strain – and the province has already had to take extraordinary measures to cope.
According to provincial data, while just about one in ten Quebecers is currently unvaccinated, they account for roughly half of patients in intensive care units. In an interview with CTV News, Canadian Medical Association president Dr Katharine Smart remarked, “We’ve gotten to a point where it’s become very difficult to get that final sort of 10 or 15% of individuals across the finish line.”
At the very least, the strategy appears to be a success: after the anti-vax tax plan published on Tuesday, more than 7,000 Quebecers registered to receive their first dosage of the vaccine. After the results released, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé tweeted, “Our highest in few days.” “This gives me hope.”