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E-BLAST: Tackling Controversy to Save Lives

There is an old rule of thumb in politics: If a topic is loaded with controversy and it’s not your responsibility, avoid it at all costs. As the fourth wave of this pandemic threatens to arrive in Toronto just when we want our children to return to school, I am going to break that rule. I need to talk about vaccine passports, even though it is controversial in some circles.

A picture of me getting my second dose at Women's College Hospital back in June.

This issue is not my jurisdiction. While some of you may want Toronto to implement its own vaccine passport system, there’s legal debate over whether a municipality is able to have a proof of vaccine system of its own and actually enforce it. However, there is no doubt that we need one. If implemented at the Provincial level, that system would stand on much firmer legal ground. We need our Provincial government to act now and implement vaccine passports.

Luckily, Ontario does not have to go first. This wheel has already been invented in Quebec, which announced last week that it is implementing a vaccine passport system for non-essential services. Health officials in Quebec anticipated the future need for a proof of vaccination system and began early to issue QR coded receipts to those who received their first and second doses. The QR codes can be printed and issued on paper or stored on a mobile phone, and are scanned to pull up information about a person’s vaccination status.

Quebec's system uses QR codes to check people's vaccination status. The QR codes can be kept on your phone, as pictured above, or on paper.

They also had their draft approach to a passport system evaluated by a professor of bioethics at the Université de Montréal, Vardit Ravitsky. Dr. Ravitsky has said that Quebec’s system is nuanced and non-discriminatory because the vaccine passports will only be used in the event of an outbreak and only to access non-essential services. The province of Quebec’s Medical Officer of Health announced on Tuesday that the full system goes into effect on September 1st. The QR code proof of vaccination will be required in non-essential places such as theatres, restaurants, concerts, and sporting events. In other words, an outbreak in Quebec means a proof of vaccine crackdown instead of a business lockdown. François Legault, Quebec’s conservative Premier, recently commented that "People who have made the effort to get their two doses must be able to live a somewhat normal life." His comments clearly resonated with Quebecers. Vaccination appointments doubled in the days following his first vaccine passport announcement. So where are we at in Ontario? On Wednesday morning, the front page of the Star confirmed our worst fears and announced that a fourth wave is bearing down on our province. Appointment requests in testing centres are doubling and tripling every day while vaccination appointments have slowed to a crawl.

The number of doses administered across the Province each day has dropped significantly over the past month.

With daily case counts on the rise, there is a clear need to implement this system to save the lives of Ontarians. Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of the science table, has warned that the daily case count could climb to 1200 by the time kids head back to school in September.

We know that with case counts that high, it’s not just unvaccinated people whose health is threatened. We’ve already had to delay hundreds of thousands of surgeries, medical procedures, and health consultations during previous waves of the pandemic. We also have to look out for children under twelve who aren’t able to receive the vaccine and can still be at risk for severe complications from COVID-19. Vaccine passports are also necessary to save our local businesses. Our cafes, restaurants, theatres, boutiques, and other establishments have suffered tremendously under previous lockdowns. Those measures were absolutely necessary prior to mass vaccination, but now we have another option to keep businesses open and viable.

I loved doing my best to support local restaurants by ordering takeout during our lockdowns, but now we need to do everything we can to keep these businesses open.

By issuing vaccine passports, anyone heading to a restaurant or gym can be assured that everyone present is vaccinated. These businesses can remain open without increasing community spread. Vaccine passports will also provide a powerful incentive to those who are currently unvaccinated and want to be able to head to the movies with their family or enjoy drinks at a bar with their friends after work.

The fact is that while we do have one of the best vaccination rates in the world, there are still 1.5 million Ontarians who are unvaccinated. We need a bigger incentive to get those folks to get the vaccine. While the Quebec model rolls out, our own Premier and his Minister of Health insist that we Ontarians are all too befuddled to handle any kind of vaccine passport system and would quickly lose our proof of vaccination.

I’ve spoken to many residents this summer who have happily showed me their vaccine receipts or tell me where they’re keeping them. One woman even showed me a laminated receipt and recommended that I tell all of you to get yours done at the print shop in the Galati’s plaza on Leslie. Whatever system the Province wants to use, I am confident that all of us vaccinated citizens could manage it.

Could someone lose their proof of vaccine or try to make a fake? Sure, but that’s not a reason to have no system at all and end up locked down again. So I say, “Get on with it, Doug! And don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from Quebec.”

To be fair to our Premier, I also want to see our Prime Minister move quickly to implement the vaccine passport for international travel that was announced yesterday, as well as expand this mandate to domestic flights. I recently flew to Vancouver, a four and half hour flight. At no point did anyone ever ask me if I was vaccinated, let alone ask to see my receipt. A year and a half into this pandemic, it’s beyond time we take stronger measures to reduce virus transmission everywhere we can.

COVID-19 may be with us for a while yet. Those of us who are vaccinated still need to be careful and adhere to public health measures. At the same time, however, we deserve a life that is as normal as possible. Businesses deserve to remain open, and our frontline workers deserve to never be plunged back into the chaos that erupted in our hospitals earlier this year. It is time to make sure that all of our vaccine efforts don’t go to waste and that the fourth wave is the shortest wave yet. It is time for our province to implement proof of vaccination.


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