Vaccinations continue to be contentious as new COVID-19 variants continue to spread. Many have stated their opposition against vaccine mandates, just as they did masks. However, as the problem of COVID-19 grows, governments worldwide are clamping down to emphasize the dire need for citizens to get vaccinated.
In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault’s taken an extremely controversial stance that’s caused further commotion among those who oppose the vaccine. As of Jan. 18th, people are required to present a vaccine passport in order to enter SQDC (Société québécoise du cannabis) cannabis retail stores and SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) liquor stores.
Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé announced the measure on Jan. 6th in response to the highly contagious Omicron variant that led to a record-breaking single-day count for COVID-19 cases in Canada. Dubé explained that more Quebec residents needed to be vaccinated to push back against the rising number of cases, hoping a proof of vaccination mandate at provincially-regulated dispensaries and alcohol would get more people inoculated.
The measure appeared to be among the more effective mandates to help fight COVID-19. According to Newsweek, Dubé’s announcement led to a massive spike in COVID-19 vaccination appointments. Within a day of the Dubé’s statement, appointments quadrupled compared to the 1,500 appointments it was averaging prior. Dubé said three days after the announcement that the province saw around 6,000 appointments per day.
“Yes, this is very difficult right now,” Dubé said at the time. “But we are [taking] all the measures, [to] make sure that we minimize the impact on our personnel, on our system.”
The new measure may have put some incentive for the vaccine-hesitant, though it’s already seemed to place a burden on the dispensaries themselves. The SQDC’s union (SEE-SQDC-CSN) shared concerns about their employees and potential crowds that could gather with the vaccine passport mandate.
“Although there are already security guards at the entrance to branches, this does not prevent the risk of overflow in the days following the entry into force of the measure, hence the importance of having a sufficient number of staff and the necessary equipment to ensure the smooth and safe implementation of this new measure,” said the president of the SEE-SQDC-CSN, Steve Bédard.
The policy has been quite popular among the already-vaccinated. Many have previously expressed the anxieties of shopping publicly in the latest COVID-19 surge, so proof of vax at least provides customers some assurance.
According to Manu Public Opinion’s latest study, 78% of people in Quebec are in full support of providing proof of vaccination at SAQs and SQDC shops across the province. The vaccine passport rule also extends to large stores that do not solely sell groceries.
It seems that this policy could also prompt similar changes in the Canadian cannabis market at a retail level. Doctors and researchers in British Colombia have endorsed bringing vaccine passports to dispensaries and liquor stores across the country. A research team at Simon Fraser University recently stated that they found evidence suggesting that enforcing vaccine passports have led to higher vaccination rates.
Shih En Lu, an economist at SFU and a co-author of the study, explained to CTV BC that the vaccination passport rollout last summer pushed more people towards getting vaccinated if they had not already. “For a segment of the population, this seems to encourage them to either get the vaccination or to get it sooner,” Lu said.
In B.C., daily vaccination registration rates doubled after the provincial government announced a proof of vaccination requirement for non-essential businesses. Lu stated that the flaw in the study is that it didn’t determine whether those who registered in the days after the announcement were vaccine-hesitant or complete anti-vaxxers.
According to Stephanie Smith, B.C, perhaps, proof of vaccine at B.C. dispensaries isn’t entirely off the table. General Employees’ Union president. Employees at government dispensaries are already required to be vaccinated. Still, the success in Quebec’s vaccine mandate at liquor and cannabis shops could lead to similar action across British Columbia, Smith said. She added that the government hadn’t approached the union about expanding their vaccination programs to include retail cannabis stores or liquor shops.
“We are watching Quebec where this will come into effect, and we want to see what the impact is on workers who are now going to enforce this vaccine passport,” Smith said.
If Quebec’s approach to the vaccine passport works, then maybe a widespread proof of vaccine will come into effect at dispensaries across Canada, preventing the non-vaccinated from accessing cheap small glass jars with lids filled with the finest of cannabis strains.