Residents are required to show proof of full vaccination before entering restaurants, nightclubs and other non-essential businesses
By Jade Wong, Staff Writer
On August 31, 2021, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that the “enhanced Covid-19 vaccination certificate system”, or, in popular terminology, vaccine passports, would be in effect starting September 22.
This program was put in place as a preventative measure to safeguard public health as Covid-19 cases soar. “We cannot wait any longer. We must take immediate action, and we will. Because we need to protect hospitals, we need to avoid lockdowns at all costs. We want our kids at school and our businesses to stay open,” Ford declared in his speech.
Ford also highlighted that the spread of a more lethal Delta-variant is particularly detrimental to unvaccinated groups. According to data provided by Public Health Ontario, despite having sixty-nine percent (over 10 million) of its population fully vaccinated as of September 21, 2021, Ontario sees a four thousand one hundred and eighty-one increase in Covid-19 infections from September 12 to September 18, highlighting the severity of the virus spreading in unvaccinated parts of the population.
In the “Proof of Vaccination Guidance for Businesses and Organizations under the Reopening Ontario Act”, the Ontario Ministry of Health states that residents must show proof of being fully vaccinated before being able to enter designated premises such as restaurants and nightclubs. To be considered fully vaccinated, one can either take both shots of government-approved Covid-19 vaccines (Pfizer BioNTech Comirnaty, AstraZeneca, Moderna SpikeVax or Janssen), or take one shot of a non-approved vaccine followed by a second shot of an approved one. Three doses of non-recognized vaccines can also suffice. The policy regards people as fully vaccinated only two weeks after the final shot, on the basis that this period is necessary to reach optimal levels of antibodies.
To obtain a vaccine passport, Ontario residents with a ‘green’ photo health card (OHIP card) will have to log in to and get an electronic receipt from https://covid-19.ontario.ca/covid-19-vaccine-booking-support#proof-of-vaccination. Prior to entry to designated businesses, workers will request relevant vaccine certificates (printed or in PDF form on mobile phones) along with official identification documents. The Ontario government has promised that a scannable QR code and mobile verification application would become available as of October 22.
This announcement was followed by mixed reactions. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses has conveyed concerns from smaller business owners regarding vaccine passports. According to their report, forty-seven percent of small business owners oppose mandates on customers to show vaccine reports and only thirty-seven percent in favour. Sixty-one percent of shop owners agreed that there exist difficulties in ensuring customers and employees are fully vaccinated. Another concern is the possibility of alienating long-term customers who are unvaccinated. In an interview with Global News, gym owner Cameron Edwards states, “That’s really tough as an owner, not only from a business perspective but also because we do try to foster such a community here that knowing we are not going to be able to facilitate the physical and mental well-being of some of our members is absolutely worrying as a business owner.”
On the other hand, recurring scientific evidence has reinforced the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing infection rates, as well as mitigating the severity of infections. According to data provided by the Government of Ontario, approximately 17 vaccinated individuals per one million inhabitants are infected by Covid-19 per day. For unvaccinated individuals, the number is more than seven times that, at about 120 infections per million inhabitants. Only 1.3 per million vaccinated persons are in intensive care units (ICUs) for Covid-related illnesses, while 55 per million unvaccinated people have been in ICU due to the coronavirus. This reflects the effectiveness of vaccines in protecting public health.
Despite this, there are still anti-vaccination protests staged in downtown Toronto on the week of September 13, 2021.
It should be noted that vaccine passports are not unique to Ontario. The Manitoban government has announced plans to adopt a vaccine passport policy from September 3, 2021, onwards. As early as September 1, 2o21, Quebec has also legislated mandatory proof of vaccination, with details being published on their government website. British Columbia has also issued a mandate requiring residents to show proof of at least 1 shot of recognized Covid-19 vaccine before entering non-essential businesses as of September 13, 2021, and by October 24, its residents will be required to show proof of completed vaccination series.
Internationally, attempts to raise vaccination rates through similar mandates have been observed. As of October 1, 2021, the Scottish government will require residents to show their Covid-19 vaccination certificates before entering nightclubs, adult entertainment venues and large-scale events. The United Kingdom originally had plans to introduce “Covid-Pass” (an equivalent to vaccine passports) at the end of September 2021. However, in an interview with the BBC, Health Secretary Sajid Javid states that such initiatives are cancelled, explaining that “We shouldn’t do things for the sake of it.” Boris Johnson has also expressed openness to reintroducing vaccine passports but states that the government will focus on promoting vaccination, including a booster jab for those 50 or older or otherwise vulnerable. However, this possibility of reintroducing vaccine passports if Covid-19 cases were to spike in winter is not universally popular; Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey has spoken on the BBC Andrew Marr Show regarding his opposition to vaccine passports, asserting, “If you take two shots of a Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t mean you cannot catch Covid… It is very divisive,” and also noting that already struggling small businesses would be further harmed.
As the first stages of vaccine passport policy roll out this week, Ontario’s vaccination rate is expected to soar, although it will be some time before their effects on Ontario and its residents are visible.