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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, on March 11, 2021.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed caution Friday over the use of “vaccine passports,” suggesting they could unfairly impact some people if used to decide who can go to a concert or dine at a restaurant.

While Trudeau acknowledged that proof of a COVID-19 inoculation would not be out of place for travellers who already face similar requirements for other vaccines when embarking on international jaunts, he said such a scheme for everyday activities in Canada raises “questions of equity.”

He said some Canadians cannot be vaccinated because of medical conditions, and noted people who are not prioritized for shots will have to wait much longer than others.

“These are things that we have to take into account so that yes, we’re looking to try and encourage everyone to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, but we’re not discriminating and bringing in unfairness in the process at the same time,” Trudeau said while announcing Pfizer vaccine deliveries will soon reach one million doses per week and extend into early May.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu noted discussions are underway with international partners about how vaccine passports could be used.

Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson: Which COVID-19 vaccine will I get in Canada?

Canada pre-purchased millions of doses of seven different vaccine types, and Health Canada has approved four so far for the various provincial and territorial rollouts. All the drugs are fully effective in preventing serious illness and death, though some may do more than others to stop any symptomatic illness at all (which is where the efficacy rates cited below come in).

PFIZER-BIONTECH

  • Also known as: Comirnaty
  • Approved on: Dec. 9, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 95 per cent with both doses in patients 16 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 15-year-olds
  • Traits: Must be stored at -70 C, requiring specialized ultracold freezers. It is a new type of mRNA-based vaccine that gives the body a sample of the virus’s DNA to teach immune systems how to fight it. Health Canada has authorized it for use in people as young as 12.

MODERNA

  • Also known as: SpikeVax
  • Approved on: Dec. 23, 2020
  • Efficacy rate: 94 per cent with both doses in patients 18 and older, and 100 per cent in 12- to 17-year-olds
  • Traits: Like Pfizer’s vaccine, this one is mRNA-based, but it can be stored at -20 C. It’s approved for use in Canada for ages 12 and up.

OXFORD-ASTRAZENECA

  • Also known as: Vaxzevria
  • Approved on: Feb. 26, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 62 per cent two weeks after the second dose
  • Traits: This comes in two versions approved for Canadian use, the kind made in Europe and the same drug made by a different process in India (where it is called Covishield). The National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s latest guidance is that its okay for people 30 and older to get it if they can’t or don’t want to wait for an mRNA vaccine, but to guard against the risk of a rare blood-clotting disorder, all provinces have stopped giving first doses of AstraZeneca.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

  • Also known as: Janssen
  • Approved on: March 5, 2021
  • Efficacy rate: 66 per cent two weeks after the single dose
  • Traits: Unlike the other vaccines, this one comes in a single injection. NACI says it should be offered to Canadians 30 and older, but Health Canada paused distribution of the drug for now as it investigates inspection concerns at a Maryland facility where the active ingredient was made.

How many vaccine doses do I get?

All vaccines except Johnson & Johnson’s require two doses, though even for double-dose drugs, research suggests the first shots may give fairly strong protection. This has led health agencies to focus on getting first shots to as many people as possible, then delaying boosters by up to four months. To see how many doses your province or territory has administered so far, check our vaccine tracker for the latest numbers.

She said it’s important to make sure Canada is not left behind if the world makes this a new travel requirement.

But conversations around how passports could be used within Canada are a provincial matter, said Hajdu, noting provinces already oversee similar vaccination proofs required by some schools and certain health-care settings.

“Those are all largely provincial decisions and of course they’re very difficult ones,” she said.

“But certainly I know provinces and territories are deliberating about those kinds of decisions that are coming their way as more people become vaccinated.”

Canada vaccine tracker: How many COVID-19 doses have been administered so far?

COVID-19 news: Updates and essential resources about the pandemic

Quebec officials said last month that the province was studying the possibility of a vaccine passport, prompting government critics to urge a rigorous examination of the ethical consequences.

The notion is drawing more attention as countries increasingly look towards a post-COVID world.

Israel offers a “green pass” to vaccinated citizens and those who have recovered from COVID-19 so that they can resume activities otherwise prevented by pandemic precautions.

But that country is well ahead of Canada’s vaccination rollout with more than half the population covered by two doses.

In Canada, more than 2.7 million doses have been administered so far.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said close to 600,000 doses were given out over the past week, the highest since the rollout began.

Trudeau said Pfizer’s updated delivery schedule was “going to make a big difference” in coming weeks, repeating a pledge to dramatically ramp up supply in the coming months.

He said Canada can expect to receive at least one million COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses per week from March 22 to May 10.

The influx is more than double the 444,600 doses expected next week and is on top of vaccine deliveries from Moderna, expected to bring 846,000 doses the week of March 22.

Over the past week there has been an average of more than 3,050 new COVID-19 cases and 31 deaths reported daily.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said more than 2,050 patients were treated in hospital each day, including about 540 in critical care.

She added there were now close to 3,000 variants of concern cases, with the B.1.1.7. variant accounting for more than 90 per cent.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province had reached a critical stage of the pandemic as a spike in cases forced officials to move one southwestern region into lockdown Monday.

The province said the Sarnia-Lambton region would have to abide by tighter restrictions while the Northwestern Health Unit will move into the second-strictest “red” category of a colour-coded pandemic framework.

Ontario reported 1,371 new cases of COVID-19 and 18 more deaths linked to the virus on Friday. The province has administered 1,062,910 doses of vaccine.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 753 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths, including three in the previous 24 hours. The province administered 28,910 vaccine doses on Thursday, for a total of 648,663.

Njoo touted the nation’s progress following a week of remembrance in which the world marked the one-year anniversary of the pandemic.

But Njoo also warned that “racing towards the finish” could cost us hard-won successes.

Public opinion research published last month by the Public Policy Forum found mixed support for vaccine passports.

Research author Peter Loewen found just a slim majority of support in an online survey, and greater hesitancy over how such information would be recorded and verified.

Loewen noted appeal lies in offering increased safety for people accessing services, slower transmission of the virus and greater incentives for vaccination.

But he acknowledged questions of fairness, as well as hurdles to figuring out how to issue and verify passports.

In total, Canada has seen 899,757 cases of COVID-19, including 22,371 deaths and more than 30,670 active cases reported across the country.

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