Requiring proof of vaccination allowed in ‘limited circumstances,’ says B.C.’s human rights commissioner

There are “limited circumstances” in which businesses and service providers can require people to provide proof of vaccination, according to new guidance from B.C.’s human rights commissioner.

Kasari Govender’s guidance, published online this week, stresses that vaccination status policies should only be implemented if “less intrusive means of preventing COVID-19 transmission are inadequate for the setting and if due consideration is given to the human rights of everyone involved.”

The document doesn’t outline specific scenarios that would justify a proof-of-vaccine requirement, but does indicate any such policies should be based on evidence of a transmission risk in a particular setting.

In approaching the thorny issue, Govender weighed the importance of upholding individual rights while also protecting the collective rights to health and safety – which the commissioner acknowledged has been a difficult balancing act throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“No one’s safety should be put at risk because of others’ personal choices not to receive a vaccine,” the guidance reads.

“Just as importantly, no one should experience harassment or unjustifiable discrimination when there are effective alternatives to vaccination status policies.”

The commissioner said any policies that treat people differently based on vaccination status must “remain consistent” with the B.C. Human Rights Code, which offers protections to a number of classes, including people with a disability.

Vaccination status policies should also be time-limited – meaning they are implemented for as short a period as possible, and regularly reviewed based on health advice and the state of the pandemic – and be “proportional to the health and safety risks they seek to address,” according to the document.

The commissioner said business and service providers should also keep in mind that any collection, use or disclosure of personal health information such as vaccination status must abide by privacy laws.

Last week, while B.C. was relaxing visitation rules at long-term care homes, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the government would not be requiring workers in those facilities to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Those employees will need to continue wearing masks and adhering to other prevention measures such as “being tested for COVID-19 using rapid tests three times a week,” Henry said.

Henry also announced plans to issue a new public health order requiring long-term care homes to provide the names and personal health numbers of all staff, residents and volunteers, which will be used to determine vaccination rates at each facility and outbreak risks. ‘

Health officials have long warned that seniors are much more vulnerable to falling seriously ill or even dying after catching COVID-19.

To read the full document, “A human rights approach to proof of vaccination during the COVID-19 pandemic,” click here.

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