At the end of May Jason Kenney unveiled an aggressive reopening plan that would lead to the best Alberta summer ever and on July 1 he lifted all but a handful of Covid-19 restrictions.
Two months later we crashed.
On Sept 3 we had 1401 cases, 515 Albertans were hospitalized, 118 of them were in ICU. Our ICUs are at 95% capacity, elective surgeries have been postponed, our healthcare professionals are burned out and our healthcare system is on the verge of collapse.
Why? Because 30% of eligible Albertans are unvaccinated and the Delta variant is running wild.
Not to worry. Jason Kenney has a plan.
After scouring the globe for solutions (he’s open to “any promising new option”* and left “no stone unturned”) and spending two whole days in cabinet reviewing the recommendations of Dr Hinshaw and AHS and Alberta Health officials, he emerged with what he said was a simple message: “if you’ve been holding out, you just haven’t gotten around to it, it’s now literally worth yourwhile” to do the right thing.
He’s going to pay unvaxxed Albertans 18 years and older $100 for their first or second jab.
Kenney justified his plan with the argument that if it comes to a choice between (1) a sustained crisis in our hospitals, (2) widespread restrictions, or (3) finding a way to get the attention of vax “latecomers” he’d choose (3).
But there’s a fourth alternative he didn’t consider. A way to boost the vaccination rate that doesn’t punish those who don’t have to be bribed into doing the right thing. It’s called a vaccine passport, a system that requires proof of vaccination before people can go to restaurants, gyms, cinemas and bars.
Health writer, Andre Picard, says vaccine passport systems are necessary and beneficial because:
- They reward those who got vaccinated with more freedom.
- They induce the unvaccinated to get their shots (BC’s vax appointments tripled and Quebec’s went up 50% after their governments announced their programs).
- They provide clear rules that benefit businesses and the general public, thereby avoiding further lockdowns.
77% of Albertans support a vaccine passport system.
Four provinces, BC, Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba have adopted such programs, but Kenney ignored these Canadian examples, choosing to follow in the footsteps of Colorado. He is going to gamble $20 million in an attempt to raise Alberta’s vaccination rate by 5 percentage points by giving unvaccinated Albertans over the age of 18 a $100 debit card.
On Aug 23, Colorado announced it would give a $100 Walmart gift card (while supplies last) to any unvaccinated Coloradan aged 12 and up. At the end of two weeks, Colorado boosted its vax rate by 1%. The rate for one shot went from 62.6% to 63.5% and the rate for two shots went from 56.1% to 57.2%.
Kenney’s plan doesn’t include all eligible Albertans, only those 18 and up so it will be harder to reach the target, but the supply of pre-loaded debit cards appears to be limitless.
However if Colorado is anything to go by, we’ll be lucky to get a 1 percentage point uptick in our vaccination rate. Seems to me the $20 million would be better spent on nurses’ salaries and covid protection for children in schools.
Money vs morality
The most troubling thing about Kenney’s $100 plan is it’s mercenary.
No one should be paid to “do the right thing,” paid to stop exposing their families, friends and communities to the risk of illness and death and driving our healthcare system into the ground.
This is immoral.
But we are not surprised. We live in Kenney’s Alberta. Our faith in our democratic institutions, our public service systems, even ourselves, is severely strained.
We are now at the point where we debate how to rid ourselves of the anti-vaxxers requiring medical attention. Should they be pushed out of ICUs when beds become scarce? Should they be treated in field hospitals by unvaccinated medical staff? Should they be forced to pay a premium for healthcare?
These are ethical questions that challenge the principle of universal healthcare, the medical profession’s duty to provide care and our duty as citizens to see beyond our own selfish needs and support the greater common good.
These questions will not be answered by issuing a $100 government debit card to someone who is otherwise able to get a vaccination against covid-19.
Instead of kowtowing to the vocal minority, it’s time Kenney acted in the interests of the majority of Albertans who did the right thing to protect themselves, their families and their communities. He must implement a vaccine passport system to move us closer to the post-pandemic normal.
Anything less is immoral.
*All quotes from the Kenney press conference Friday Sept 3.