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Francesca Paceri, a registered pharmacist technician, carefully fills the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine at a vaccine clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Several groups of high-risk Ontarians will be eligible to book COVID-19 booster shots this morning at 8 a.m.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario implemented its vaccine passport system for indoor settings on Sept. 22. Also known as a vaccine receipt, this proof-of-vaccination document and QR code are the key to using non-essential services such as getting into restaurants, bars, sporting events and other social gatherings.

As of Oct. 18, everyone in Ontario can download the province’s new vaccine certificates, which feature scannable QR codes. The app, called “Verify Ontario,” is available for businesses required to request proof of vaccination to scan those QR codes with a smartphone.

On Dec. 10, Ontario announced that effective Jan. 4, its vaccine certificate rules for restaurants and other higher-risk businesses will no longer allow the acceptance of the old printed versions, without a scannable QR code.

Here’s a look at how Ontario’s proof-of-vaccination system works, and how you can access your vaccination passport.

What is a proof-of-vaccination document?

Also known as a vaccine receipt or vaccine passport, it is a document that you can download on your phone or print to show businesses that you are fully vaccinated.

Effective Jan. 4, only the scannable QR code will be accepted as proof of vaccination at restaurants and other higher-risk businesses. Those with medical exemptions will also need a verified certificate with a QR code. Doctor’s notes will no longer be accepted as of Jan. 10.

The province says businesses and patrons who don’t follow the rules could be fined.

Read our province-to-province guide on the changing mandates, restrictions and vaccine passport requirements across Canada

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People arrive for COVID-19 vaccine appointments at Scarborough Health Network’s pop-up clinic at Woburn Collegiate Institute in Toronto's Scarborough neighbourhood on Thursday.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

How does the Ontario vaccine passport work?

You are eligible to receive your proof of vaccination for any doses received in Ontario, regardless of where you were vaccinated (pop-up clinic, pharmacy and so on).

Although you can download a receipt for each dose you receive, to be able to enter a business, you must show proof of your second vaccination. You are considered fully vaccinated if you have:

  • The full series of Health Canada-approved vaccines (that’s two doses of the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca, or AstraZeneca in combination with an mRNA shot), or a combination of one or two doses not approved by Health Canada followed by a dose of Pfizer or Moderna.
  • Three doses of a vaccine not authorized by Canada.

The final dose of any vaccine combination must have been taken at least 14 days before you are allowed to enter most indoor settings. Proof of vaccination may also include a vaccination receipt from another jurisdiction that shows the holder is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Ontario does not consider previous infection with COVID-19 a substitute for being fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated people will not be allowed to submit a negative COVID-19 test instead of a certificate.

How do I download my passport?

You need to log in to the provincial portal to download or print an electronic COVID-19 QR code. Starting Jan. 4, only QR codes will be accepted at restaurants other higher-risk businesses.

To download your proof of vaccination, you must have a green OHIP photo card, as you will be entering the card information to pull your vaccinations records.

If you do not have a computer or printer, you can call the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900 and they will mail you a copy. In many cities, including Toronto, library branches have said people can print vaccine receipts for free at any location.

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Verify Ontario gives businesses and organizations a quick, easy and trusted way to scan and confirm that visitors are fully vaccinated. The app scans the QR code on an Ontario government-issued vaccine certificate. Sophie Suzuki-Gunn/The Globe and MailSophie Suzuki-Gunn/The Globe and Mail

Ontarians can start downloading the new vaccine certificates, which features QR codes from the province’s website. As of October 18 at 6:00 a.m., the enhanced vaccine certificates have been available for all to download. By Jan. 4, the printed version without a QR code will no longer be accepted as proof of vaccination.

Businesses can download the app, Verify Ontario. It will scan the QR codes, and if the patron is fully vaccinated, the business will see a checkmark and the person’s name and date of birth, to be checked against their ID.

The app is available in both Apple and Google’s app stores.

How do you access the vaccine passport without a photo health card?

If you do not have a photo health card, or if you own a red and white health card, you need to call the Provincial Vaccine Booking Line at 1-833-943-3900.

Even without a health card, you are eligible for the vaccine. You can contact your local public-health unit where you will be asked for another form of identification and they will help you book an appointment.

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Linda Henry has her COVID-19 QR code scanned by Jonathan Gagne, manager of Orangetheory Fitness in Montreal, on Sept. 1 as the Quebec government’s COVID-19 vaccine passport comes into effect.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

When will Ontario’s vaccine passport app be available to download?

The province first launched a QR code and verification app – along with a smartphone app for businesses to verify them – on Oct. 15. Paper receipts will continue to be accepted until Jan. 3 2022, but they will no longer be available for download and have been replaced by the new, QR-code enhanced vaccine certificates.

Ontario previously said it would develop the app in-house using the Smart Health Card standard, an open source system for generating QR codes developed by the Boston Children’s Hospital. The same standard is also being used for vaccine passport systems already in place in British Columbia and Quebec.

Where do you need to show vaccination proof?

According to the government of Ontario website, proof of vaccination will be required for indoor activities including restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, theatres and sports venues.

That list includes:

  • Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout).
  • Nightclubs (including outdoor areas of the establishment).
  • Meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres.
  • Facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport.
  • Sporting events.
  • Casinos, bingo halls and gambling establishments.
  • Concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas.
  • Strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs.
  • Racing venues (e.g., horse racing).

Ontario says that because the risk of transmission is lower in outdoor settings, like restaurant patios, proof of vaccination is not required.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford removes his mask to respond to a question during a press conference announcing the enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate system, at Queen's Park in Toronto on Sept. 1.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

Who can get a medical exemption from the proof of vaccination?

Ontario announced on Dec. 10 that those with medical exemptions will need a verified certificate with a QR code. Doctor’s notes will no longer be accepted as of Jan. 10.

As COVID-19 vaccine passports have come into effect across Canada, doctors have reported an uptick in requests for medical exemptions – but health officials say there are very few conditions that meet the criteria.

“The reality is, valid medical exemptions for vaccination are very few so it is fairly straightforward,” said Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

What conditions exist for valid medical exemption?

  • Anaphylaxis to any of the ingredients in the vaccine confirmed by an allergist or immunologist.
  • Having had a significant allergic reaction to the first dose.
  • Myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle and a rare side effect of the three vaccines, prior to getting a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.

In Ontario, in order to access non-essential services, people with medical exemptions will have to provide a written document, completed and supplied by a physician stating that the individual is exempt for a medical reason from being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the effective time period for the medical reason, according to the Ministry of Health. They must also provide valid proof of identification.

Ontario says it is working to integrate exemptions into the digital vaccine certificate app. Children who are unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine are also exempt.

What has Doug Ford said about vaccine passports?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was reluctant to impose vaccine passports, saying in July that he was against such measures because they would create a “split society.” Mr. Ford later reversed course, announcing on Sept. 14 that vaccine certification was necessary to avoid another lockdown.

In a statement following Canada’s federal election, the Premier acknowledged concerns about “civil liberties and right to privacy” and urged Ontarians not to take their frustrations out on businesses. Mr. Ford said the system is a temporary measure, but has not divulged criteria for ending the requirement. He said the decision will be based on advice from the province’s top health officials. Critics of Mr. Ford accused him of dragging his feet; the government had plans for QR code certifications drawn up last December, but never acted on them.

What are the guidelines for enforcement?

Ontario released guidelines for businesses in mid-September. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce welcomed the guidance but raised the issue that the rules only apply to customers, not staff, meaning people who must show a vaccine receipt to eat at a restaurant could be served by an unvaccinated waiter.

Businesses are required to check that the name and date of birth on the vaccination receipt matches a patron’s identification before allowing entry. Businesses don’t have to validate medical exemption notes, officials say a standardized note for exemption is in the works.

Individuals face up to $750 in fines, or $1,000 for corporations, for breaking the rules.

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With reports from The Canadian Press, Globe staff.

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