Quebec tax on the unvaccinated could be a step in the right direction

Governments have to undertake firm steps as anti-vaccine attitudes endanger lives

Quebec Premier, François Legault. (wiki.commons)

It is 2022 AD, or should I say 2 AC (After Covid) for those of us who understand time that way now. Something which was meant to “go away” after the vaccine rollout has lingered on well into another year, thanks in part to low vaccination rates among developing countries, virus mutations, and the anti-vax ‘movement’ in developed ones.

Earlier this month, The Quebecois premier François Legault announced that his government is implementing a tax, a “contribution santé (healthcare contribution) levied on unvaccinated Quebeckers for voluntarily choosing to remain unvaccinated. The tax is being presented to account for the extra burden COVID-19 is exerting on the healthcare system. 

Fines like these in one form or the other already exist in Austria, Greece, and Singapore.

This comes during the Omicron wave which has affected Canada in general, and Quebec in particular disastrously with hospitals — which haven’t gotten any respite in the last two years — overflowing. Unvaccinated people are disproportionately represented in hospitalizations and as these are drastic times, in my opinion, they do in fact call for drastic measures.

Governments all over the world have been trying to make vaccination for all a reality and while developing countries struggle with a lack of vaccines, endemic corruption and inadequate healthcare infrastructure, first-world nations have to contend with the rise of conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation. 

Even though opposition to vaccines is as old as vaccines themselves, the anti-vax “movement” in its modern form began garnering momentum after the publication of a research paper in Britain linking the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism in children. The paper has been thoroughly disproved since then, but its cultural impact remains.

Measles outbreaks have occurred more frequently ever since even though the disease was officially extinct. COVID-19 has added new zeal to this movement with vaccine-hesitant people who may have had some valid questions about vaccine safety initially, falling prey to targeted misinformation tactics. 

By making vaccines a matter of individual freedom and choice, thereby politicizing it, it distracts from the movement’s gruesome anti-science and sometimes alt-right leanings.

The fact that some people would rather defend beliefs that are clearly unscientific and dangerous, not only to them but to other members of the society, than get vaccinated for free in a worldwide pandemic, has pushed governments the world over to opt for measures which are more insistently coercive. In some cases, they are even punitive.

It’s fair to be a bit skeptical of the impact this will have in the long run as far as curbing vaccine hesitancy is concerned but this is certainly a step in the right direction, although this should not be a “one size fits all” approach. Different approaches, including incentivizing people through rewards to get vaccinated, should be tested as well. It can be argued that this is similar to the tobacco tax that is levied on smokers both to disincentivize tobacco consumption and as a healthcare contribution. 

However, this move has faced increased criticism from a number of people who argue that this disproportionately affects poorer individuals and families, as many anti-vaxxers come from lower socio-economic and educational backgrounds. 

Several politicians have also criticized the move for infringing on individual freedoms and antagonizing a population group. Implementation of such a tax has also been questioned as it could be perceived as openly hostile, and as a result, entails further radicalization of people with anti-vax beliefs. 

There is growing frustration among everyone, including those who have received vaccinations, with COVID restrictions being prolonged with no end in sight. Dialogue and information campaigns should continue so as to not antagonize this population group, so that we can get out of this pandemic together and united.  

As the pandemic rages on, the conflict between anti-vaxxers and governments will grow, and similar last-resort measures may spring up across the world.