Vaccine passports ‘inevitable,’ says Eastern Ontario’s chief medical officer

Author of the article:

Elizabeth Payne

Publishing date:

Aug 25, 2021  •  17 hours ago  •  4 minute read  •  26 Comments

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief public health officer for Eastern Ontario, photographed outside of his Orleans home.
Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief public health officer for Eastern Ontario, photographed outside of his Orleans home. Photo by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

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Pressure is mounting for the Ontario government to introduce COVID-19 vaccine passports, with some public health officials suggesting they might go it alone if the province doesn’t.

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Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, who is president of the Association of Local Public Health Agencies, said vaccine passports or certificates are inevitable in Ontario, especially with passports in Quebec and British Columbia and the number of businesses making vaccination mandatory for customers.

He predicted they will be in place within weeks based on growing pressure from health and business officials and conversations with people inside the provincial government. The ministry of health said Wednesday there are no plans for a passport system.

“With the number of organizations that are mandating it, we need in this province some kind of a formal vaccine certificate that will standardize the approach to screening individuals before they enter a premise,” Roumeliotis said. “And I know it is inevitable that we will be getting them.”

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Roumeliotis, who is chief medical officer with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, said a provincewide approach would be best. But in the absence of provincial direction the alternative could be a regional vaccine passport program, similar to what was done to mandate masks in four Eastern Ontario health regions before the provincial government did so.

Peel Region’s Dr. Lawrence Loh also raised the possibility of a regional approach to vaccine passports Wednesday. During a press briefing, Loh, whose region has been a COVID-19 hot spot during the pandemic, called on the province to introduce vaccine certificates and said he is exploring local options with other health units if the province does not.

Ottawa’s Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brent Moloughney, said he will be watching what happens in Peel. He said it makes the most sense for the province to be the lead on a vaccine certificate program, but if it doesn’t take the reins, he is interested in speaking to Roumeliotis and other neighbouring public health officials about a regional approach. That is something the business community has been asking for, he said.

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“They see the value in having some kind of certification system.”

There is more urgency to have a vaccine passport system in place in Eastern Ontario since Quebec has introduced one. Health officials and business owners fear Ontario residents who feel safer with vaccine passports will take their business to Quebec, and Quebeckers who are not vaccinated will come to Ontario.

“Our circumstance here in Ottawa is a bit unique compared to other parts of the province in that Quebec is just over the river, and we have seen over the course of the COVID pandemic that any time there is an imbalance in policies between Ontario and Quebec, people move accordingly,” said Moloughney.

“Sometimes people from Ontario go to Quebec and vice versa. I think with Quebec introducing their passport system starting soon, my understanding is that Ontario residents can go to Quebec and show their vaccination status. That will have a net impact on our businesses where we will be potentially losing business.”

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He is also concerned about unvaccinated people from Quebec coming to Ottawa.

“It would be helpful to have some kind of certification system here.”

Premier Doug Ford has, in the past, rejected a provincewide vaccine certificate system.

In a statement, ministry of health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said people can download a COVID-19 vaccine receipt “should proof of vaccination be required in a certain setting.” The current version of the vaccine receipt contains a watermark and digital signature to deter forgery, she said.

A vaccine certificate, or passport, which was proposed by Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, would likely result in an uptick of people seeking vaccination, as it has in other provinces.

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Moloughney acknowledged Wednesday that vaccination rates have plateaued in Ottawa. Seventy-five per cent of residents have now had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, but vaccination rates have to be at least 90 per cent to counter the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is now dominant across the province as the fourth wave of the pandemic begins.

“Ottawa Public Health is supportive of any policy that will increase immunization coverage in our city,” he said.

On Wednesday, Liberal Health and Long-Term Care Critic John Fraser said vaccine passports should be issued soon to slow the spread of Delta.

“Ottawa families are asking for a vaccine passport to stop the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant and try to get back to some semblance of a normal life. Doug Ford continues to say no, despite calls from medical experts, business leaders and municipalities throughout the province.”

  1. A test scan of a vaccine passport is shown at an Econofitness gym in Laval, Quebec, Canada August 17, 2021.

    Quebec’s vaccine passport starts Sept. 1, here’s what out-of-province visitors must show to gain access to non-essential businesses

  2. The rapid rise of Delta variant has put in danger the province's plans for herd immunity. File photo

    Spread of COVID-19 Delta variant threatens Ontario’s ‘herd immunity’ plans

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