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opinion

A syringe is filled with a dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., on April 10.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Practically speaking, proof of vaccination is going to be required in many places in the coming months, maybe even years.

No one wants a resurgence of COVID-19, especially after all the effort and sacrifice we have made, individually and collectively, to combat the spread of coronavirus and get people vaccinated.

No employer or business operator wants the headache (never mind legal liability) that an outbreak could cause.

In other words, it would be irresponsible, not to mention politically and economically self-defeating, to not try limiting the intermingling of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. Doing so is becoming increasingly important with the spread of the Delta variant, which has sent COVID-19 numbers soaring again in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The most efficient way to stave off this scenario in Canada is requiring proof of vaccination in many public and commercial venues.

So let’s dispense with the pointless rhetorical “debate” about whether vaccine certificates or passports are necessary, or represent some gruesome violation of rights and freedoms, and focus on how to make the rules as clear, simple and fair as possible.

Canada has, to date, failed miserably on that count, with an incomprehensible jumble of wishful thinking, buck-passing and illogical public policies that vary by province and often by individual institution.

COVID-19 vaccination should be mandatory for health care workers, those who work with vulnerable populations (such as seniors and people with disabilities) and child-care workers. This needs to be an overarching law, as it is in France and Italy, not a facility-by-facility decision.

Similarly, all students who want to study at a university or college, and the staff who teach them, should get their shots. Not just those at some institutions, not just those living in residence – everyone.

Restaurants and bars, and other places where people mingle in close proximity over prolonged periods of time, such as concert halls and sports facilities, should also require proof of vaccination.

But, again, clarity is essential, as it is for age requirements at licensed facilities. The burden should not fall on individual business owners to make and enforce their own rules. Provinces can’t just lift restrictions and pretend everything will work out fine.

There needs to be a single, standard Canadian vaccination certificate – or at the very least a shared template. The Ontario Science Table defines a certificate as follows: “A verifiable attestation by an issuing body that a person has received an approved and complete series of COVID-19 vaccines.”

The official document should be, in the words of the Science Table, “verifiable, secure, standardized, accessible and portable.”

Ideally, it would be in electronic form, perhaps by expanding the excellent CANImmunize app, but there also needs to be a paper version to accommodate those who don’t have or can’t afford fancy phones.

There are published media reports that a pan-Canadian vaccination certificate is in the works but it won’t be ready until December at the earliest. That isn’t good enough, especially with one in five Canadians unvaccinated.

(A domestic proof of vaccination certificate is distinct from a vaccine passport, which provides proof of vaccination for the purposes of international travel, though the terms are often used interchangeably. There is already an app for this, called ArriveCAN.)

In public health, there is an age-old debate about using persuasion or coercion to get the public to embrace measures such as vaccination.

In general, the preference is patient persuasion. But sometimes, when the carrots don’t work, you need to bring out the sticks, or at least the roadblocks.

None of this suggests that people’s rights should be violated. People are, and should be, free to refuse COVID-19 vaccination. But that does not mean there will not be consequences for the choice.

Refusing vaccination is a right. But working in a long-term care facility, attending a Colter Wall concert and having a meal indoors at Boston Pizza are not rights. They are privileges for which vaccination should be a prerequisite.

Most people understand that rights are not absolute, that competing interests have to be balanced.

After almost 18 months of being tormented by the pandemic, most Canadians also understand that there are still some adjustments to be made if we’re going to put COVID-19 behind us.

One of those minor inconveniences is going to be showing proof of vaccination before we can return to work, go back to school and go out on the town.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a small price to pay, and we should be insisting that our governments make it as easy and painless as possible.

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