Should We Tax the Anti-Vax?

When I heard on the news that the Quebec government was considering taxing the unvaccinated, my immediate reaction was, “Sounds like fun, but it’s going to be a tough sell.” Looking into it, these are the factors that occur to me.

Precedence: depends on your POV

Look at it like regular insurance. If you choose to smoke, you pay more for life insurance. If your house is closer to a fire hydrant, you pay less fire insurance.

However, if you look at government-funded free health insurance, it’s not so clear. If you smoke, you’re at higher risk for lung cancer, and you threaten the health of others. However, if you have lung cancer, the government health system treats you free.

Functionality: Yes, for some people. Not for others.

I know this won’t cut any ice with many of you, but consider the carbon tax; you pay the government to forgive you for doing something counter to the good of the people. Personally, I think this sounds too much like how a bribe works. But the carbon tax has proved to be the most effective incentive to industry to stop polluting. Hit people in their pocketbooks and they change their behaviour. However, for those who have less freedom of choice, it’s not so simple. See “Fairness” below.

Feasibility: questionable.

In the first place, by the time any government could get something this complicated up and running, the Omicron wave will be long gone. For once, government may be doing something that works for the next wave, rather than for the last one.

Also, there will be so many court challenges it will be tied up for months.

Deciding who has to pay, how to regulate it and who will regulate it sounds complicated.

The main problem is the manner of collecting the money. How are they going to make sure people pay? Quebec has been parsimonious with details so far.

Fairness: a definite no.

For me this is the deal-breaker. Any time you put a flat tax on everyone to modify behaviour, it means that now the rich can afford it and the poor can’t. Maybe there’s a way to collect the fines through the tax department, so the rich pay more than the poor, but collecting medical records for income tax purposes is a can of worms no politician wants to stick his fingers into.

Data is hard to gather on the socio-economic and educational level of the non-vaccinated, but the big areas of non-vaccination in Canada are rural and northern, where education levels are low, transportation is difficult, and medical services are scarce. A universal tax would be yet another disadvantage for these people.

What Really Works

Workplace requirements are a top reason in changing people’s minds. In a Toronto study, 35% of the people getting their first shot did it to keep their job.

Other studies have shown that availability is a key factor for unvaccinated people.

For new immigrants, First Nations and other ethnic groups, proper information in their own language and from someone they trust is key.

And one factor that shows up time and time again influencing people to resist testing is lack of trust in government. This makes vaccination a particularly difficult sell in immigrant communities, First Nations reserves, and any group that has recent experience with authoritarian government.

Note that none of the effective treatments listed here will be helped by a tax. In fact, “just another tax” will have a huge negative effect on people who don’t trust government.

The Bottom Line

Since François Legault is not a stupid person, I think it safe to assume that he realizes his “COVID tax” is not going to fly. He’s hoping that the mere mention of it will prod people to take the plunge. Considering the analysis above, I question whether even the implied threat will result in a net gain in the parts of the country that really need more inoculations.

In the long run, no matter how good it might make you feel to take revenge on the idiot antivaxxers, taxing the unvaccinated is unfair, difficult to accomplish, and not likely to be very useful.

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