Quebec’s proposed tax for unvaccinated not the right approach for Nunavik, McGill professor says

Richard Budgell says ‘highly inequitable’ financial toll is not an incentive to get people vaccinated

Nine-year-old Lavinia Gordon from Kuujjuaq gets her first COVID-19 vaccine at the Jaanimmarik Ilinniavik school gym on Dec. 9. (Photo by Malaya Qaunirq Chapman)

By Jeff Pelletier

Quebec’s proposed tax for unvaccinated adults is not the right approach to get more Nunavimmiut vaccinated, says one McGill University professor.

Richard Budgell is a Labrador Inuk who teaches Inuit and northern health for McGill’s Department of Family Medicine.

He says he wants to see more Nunavimmiut get vaccinated against COVID-19. However, in Nunavik, where many people live with lower incomes and vaccine hesitancy is common, a financial penalty would be “highly inequitable.”

“You want to give people reasons to want to be vaccinated, as opposed to punish people for not being vaccinated,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good strategy in relation to Nunavik at all.”

Nunavik, like the rest of Quebec, continues to battle a record number of COVID-19 cases, which has put a strain on the province’s health system.

Quebec Premier François Legault announced the proposed tax in a press conference last week in Montreal.

“The idea is that everyone who is not vaccinated for non-medical reasons will have to pay a contribution,” he said, in French.

Nunavik’s vaccination rate is 52 per cent, according to the latest immunization figures published by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

Vaccination rates vary by community. Tasiujaq has the lowest rate with 39 per cent, and Kuujjuarapik has the highest rate with 70 per cent. However, these figures are much lower than the average across the province, which reports a vaccination rate of 82 per cent.

Budgell said Inuit in Nunavik may be resistant to vaccines due to online misinformation, as well as a mistrust of southern-based government institutions and public health.

He pointed to an approach used in the Nunatsiavut region in which health-care workers contact people over the phone, provide information about vaccinations, and give the option to have their vaccine administered at home.

“That kind of approach, I think, frequently works, you make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinations,” he said.

Legault’s announcement has drawn mixed reviews, as well as calls for debate in Quebec’s national assembly.

“This measure raises issues of application, but also raises serious ethical questions,” said Dominique Anglade, Quebec’s Liberal opposition leader, on Twitter.

Legault’s government will table a bill when the National Assembly resumes in the first week of February with more details about the tax, the premier announced during a Jan. 13 news conference.

Opposition parties will have the opportunity to vote for or against the bill and debate any amendments “if necessary,” he said.

Correction

Nunatsiavut health-care workers contact people over the phone for vaccine outreach. An earlier version of this story stated they did so by going door to door.

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(23) Comments:

  1. Posted by Blood from a Stone on

    I disagree on the ethical points. I agree on effectiveness, but only for one reason: in remote northern communities, many people are judgement proof. That is to say sure, issue a fine, but the Government will never collect on it. I witnessed this first hand in communities over child support, where deadbeats don’t pay, don’t work, and don’t ever worry about it because it is not collectible. You cannot squeeze blood from a stone.

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    • Posted by NUNAVIMIUK on

      Not to mention , those , who are on social assistance.

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  2. Posted by Peter on

    So now were going to fine people who do not get their shots, what if they cannot afford the fine, is the government going to put them in jail which costs much more. Perhaps more education is needed, offer some incentives ect, fining people and locking them up for non payment is not the solution, just saying.

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    • Posted by JOHNNY on

      As incentive , play them $$$$$$$$

      • Posted by Truestory on

        Gift cards are the new norm in Nunavut, like covid 19. According to the Doc..

  3. Posted by Ignorance, the real pandemic on

    Instead of the usual framing of the problem as mistrust of southern institutions, etc.. let’s be more precise and call it ignorance and mistrust of science.

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    • Posted by But but but on

      But it is so critical to politics in 2022 to put sugar coat these types of facts rather than tell it like it is: IGNORANCE.

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    • Posted by MARS on

      By claiming that people are ‘ignorant’ and that they ‘mistrust science’ you have given a prime example of ignorance on your part.

      The feelings of fear and mistrust among marginalized groups when it comes to vaccination, and to healthcare more generally are feelings that are built upon on a very real historical foundation.

      I’d recommend you do some reading on the ‘Tuskegee Study’ and the case of Henrietta Lacks. Afterwards, feel free to research recent more modern day complaints of healthcare accessibility for racially marginalized groups.

      I’m willing to bet you do not belong to any of these marginalized groups and your comment further shows that your views are oversimplified and from your own privileged perspective. Please expand your viewpoints and understanding when speaking ill of others, otherwise, speak for yourself and only about yourself.

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      • Posted by Ignorance, the real pandemic on

        Their problem is under-education, possibly illiteracy, and definitely scientific illiteracy.

        Whatever reasons, or more accurately, social justice meta-narratives you might invoke don’t change or challenge that point. For example, the idea that the 61% of people in Tasiujaq who have refused vaccination have done so with lingering thoughts of Tuskegee or Henrietta Lacks is frankly delusional.

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        • Posted by MARS on

          So your argument is under-education for not taking the vaccine. How many people who took the vaccine are educated in the Sciences and mRNA vaccines beyond high school? Answer: Not many.

          You have a very narrow viewpoint and I see that you like to apply it broadly. The examples that you call delusional show me that the point that was being made went directly over your head.

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          • Posted by Ignorance, the real pandemic on

            The only point I take from your comment is that you don’t like that the people who have refused vaccination in this story have been referred to as ignorant. So, here you are fighting to defend their honor.

            Obviously, a person doesn’t need an advanced science degree to make an informed decision about vaccines, any more than they might need a degree in mechanical engineering to understand that flying in an airplane is safer than driving a car.

            It can be understood that the risk from vaccines is far lower than the risk of infection simply by a basic understanding of data. If you can’t understand the importance and interpretation of data, and instead, for example, give in to delusions about mRNA vaccine altering your DNA (again, just an example, yet one I have heard repeatedly) or posing some other kind of existential risk that does not map onto reality, then you are most likely the victim of poor education.

            Why do you find so wrong in that statement, besides the distastefulness of the picture it paints?

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            • Posted by MARS on

              Yes, I’ve called you out because you referred to people as ignorant by way of an ignorant over-generalization. The problem with your statement is not about the picture it paints but rather that it paints a black and white picture when there are shades of gray throughout and maybe even some colour in the painting. It is devoid of any real thought and is in line with schoolyard bully tactics.

              Your comment lacks understanding of the people you refer to, paints them all with the same brush and in reality is a very white perspective. Your responses show that you don’t care about any of this and would rather force your own perspective on others and if they do not subscribe to your rationale then they are ignorant, also a very white perspective.

              Are people who don’t get a flu shot yearly ignorant and uneducated also?

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      • Posted by But but but on

        Dear MARS, thanks for point outing my race and privilege while citing how I don’t know anything. Instead of jumping to conclusions why don’t we start with a dictionary.
        .
        Ignorance: a lack of knowledge, understanding, or education : the state of being ignorant
        .
        Are you offended?

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  4. Posted by Vaccinate at home on

    what a wonderful idea to vaccinate people at home, why can’t it be done in Nunavik too, this approach would work!

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    • Posted by Dave on

      What about the safety of the Health Care workers?

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      • Posted by Pangloss on

        I would be very surprised, Dave, if they did not wear PPE and take all the best precautions both available and known. Wouldn’t you?

  5. Posted by How? So? on

    If they can’t make payment for a fine, it only means that is another bill for sure. But with all life’s necessities like, monthly rent and food to be shared with other family members and neighbors, and phone bill for emergencies, and money to be spent on hunting purposes, so the animals that they get from hunting, which will last much longer then store bought food, and also provide for a lot more people. Then how so? did the government, come up with a scheme to fine people for not getting their vaccinations? I thought we were still allowed to make our own decisions as we are a democratic state. It seems alot like political manoeuvring.

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    • Posted by Democracy on

      I think you got democratic society misunderstood. Do you think people can just do what they wish in a democratic government? Like speeding, and being a nuisance when drinking? Just think about all the restrictions in a democracy. Helping to save lives, don’t seem to be too bad of a restriction if you ask me.

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  6. Posted by S on

    It is inevitable that those who deliberated and chose to forego inoculation for any coronavirus did so with intelligent consideration of risks and benefits.
    That process would be an unlikely and inappropriate one for most who chose to get the inoculation.

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    • Posted by Nope on

      There doesn’t seem to be anything inevitable about it, S. Please tell us what makes you sure that the decision to not get vaccinated (assuming that is what you mean) was necessarily based on good reasonin?

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  7. Posted by Ethics on

    I think the proposal is highly unethical especially if our goal in our society is to have universal healthcare and to require consent from people. The concept of a fine means some people will have to pay for a medical service that others don’t need to pay for. It also means that some people will be coerced financially into accepting a vaccine they do not want, whether their reason is good or based on misinformation. Would they consider a fee for people who are obese, elderly or have pre-existing conditions, all of which make them more vulnerable to needing extra care and therefore cost more? As well, I think it is wrong to push the financial responsibility on some individuals, however misguided they are about vaccination, instead of government taking its responsibility to adequately fund our health care system and educate people and be open to answering sensitive questions about the vaccine. The whole idea of these fines, I think, is unethical, irresponsible and divisive. It will also entrench anti vaxxers in their conspiracy theories.

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    • Posted by Ethics stretched to unethical portion on

      I’m an advocate for ethics in all things to all people. But we have to realize that ethics can have limitations, not in ethical outcomes itself, but in wearing out the concept of ethic to become unethical on the end of the day. Being ethically to one situation can consequently be unethical to another situation at the same time. Ethics incentives has goals towards ensuring the quality of the situation at hand. The ultimate goal is improving the human condition, thereby eliminating any interference to that improvement. This whole application of ethics is very tricky in this argument of vaccinated or non vaccination. Almost everything we do in life is best done with a balance, and to also protect the minority. That being said, it would be unethical to allow the rights of minorities to threaten the well being and life of all others that are not minorities.

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  8. Posted by DUMBFOUNDED!! on

    Once again, Quebec Government is shown its true colors to the rest of Canada and the world stage. That Quebec is a Socialist Regime and it is no different than any other Socialist Regime that belittles its citizens. It is no wonder that the rest of Canada does not like Quebec.

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