‘Vaccine certificate’ with access to perks for the double-vaxxed touted by science table as way for Ontario to accelerate the jab

‘Vaccine certificate’ with access to perks for the double-vaxxed touted by science table as way for Ontario to accelerate the jab
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The group of experts supplying the province with science-based policy recommendations is asking the premier to consider letting those who are double-vaxxed relax — and get priority entrance to movies, restaurants and gyms.

Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table released a 21-page brief Wednesday afternoon suggesting that the province’s power brokers issue a “vaccine certificate” to help differentiate between those who’ve gotten both of their shots — and those who haven’t. 

“On a short-term basis, vaccine certificates could enable the reopening of high-risk settings sooner and/or at increased capacity,” the brief says. “Vaccine certificates will be of particular importance to maintain economic and societal reopening if public health measures need to be reintroduced.”

And, the brief says, it could even help to incentivize vaccination . As of earlier this week, 40 per cent of those 12-to-17, 30 per cent of those18-to-29, 25 per cent of those 30-to-39, and 20 per cent of those 40-to-49 did not even receive the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Peter Juni, scientific director of the Science Advisory Table.

Juni told the Star that rather than asking the province to consider a certificate, it may be more appropriate to ask if one can be avoided. Because the Delta variant is on the loose and dominant, he says, more than 90 per cent of Ontarians including small children will have to be vaccinated in order to get the public health situation under control without restrictions.

“There is probably no other option than vaccine certificates,” Juni says. “Given characteristics of the Delta (variant) and its transmissibility, it is hard to see an alternative.” 

While the certificate can be viewed as controversial and may invite scorn on minorities and less privileged groups in society, the brief says, it would have to be executed in a way that ensures it doesn’t “contribute to further police harassment or state surveillance of marginalized populations, which in turn could lead to further vaccine hesitancy and mistrust.” 

As more and more of society continues to reopen with each passing day, Juni says, the government should act fast — and first — to issue such proof of vaccination. Otherwise, he says, businesses will quickly find their own solutions and those may not be as inclusive or equitable.

“Private business will organize itself,” Juni says. “This comes at a much higher risk that privacy and equity considerations are not fully taken into account.” 

More controversially, Juni says, is how the certificate could be used to increase vaccine uptake. When such a certificate was introduced in France this summer, vaccination appointments doubled immediately.

If the province does go the certificate route, it will join efforts already in progress in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Northwest Territories, and Nova Scotia, according to the brief. The brief said that earlier this month Quebec too announced that “digital proof of vaccination may be required to enter moderate- or high-risk settings for COVID-19 transmission.” 

Countries around the globe, including France and Israel and parts of the U.S., including New York, California and Louisiana already have similar certificates.

The Ministry of Health did not specifically address whether or not the province would consider a vaccine certificate. In an email to the Star, spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said the COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandated for Ontarians and that all those vaccinated now receive a receipt of vaccination. They can also request a copy if needed, she wrote.

“Ontario will continue to take action to protect the public from COVID-19,” her email said. “As we receive more vaccines, we look forward to working with our health experts and businesses on reopening our province and our economy, including the tools needed to operate safely.”   

The Government of Canada has already signalled its intention to develop a COVID passport for easing international travel — but, Juni says, that is different and distinct from a certificate. However, it is as yet unclear, the brief notes, if or how federal efforts may affect efforts at a provincial level. 

Juni says that in the face of unknowns and the complexity of the undertaking it is best to begin efforts locally and in collaboration with other provinces and the federal government. 
Read more on Toronto Star
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