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Alberta Health Services is requiring its employees — including all physicians and frontline workers — to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of October.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Suddenly, provincial government after provincial government is waking up to the need for vaccine passports.

Manitoba was the first out of the gate. Then came Quebec. Then British Columbia announced it would provide residents with official proof-of-vaccination documents, backed by a government mandate requiring their use in non-essential businesses.

Now it appears Canada’s largest province, Ontario, is going to follow suit, perhaps as soon as this week. That would be a major reversal for Premier Doug Ford, who repeatedly said his government would not issue anything more than an easily faked paper printout, and would not mandate vaccines in gyms, restaurants, bars and other indoor public places.

Even Saskatchewan is now on board – up to a point. Premier Scott Moe says his province will issue vaccine cards but won’t impose a vaccine mandate. It’s a lame half-measure that will leave businesses that ask patrons to be vaccinated, such as the Saskatchewan Roughriders, going it alone.

Still, the trend toward vaccine passports and mandates is positive, and necessary. Though nearly 84 per cent of Canadians 12 years of age and over have received at least one shot, the number of people coming forward to get vaccinated started dropping in July.

However, it has finally started rising again, from a seven-day average of 28,761 first shots a day on Aug. 16, to 35,351 on Aug. 30, according to COVID-19 Tracker website.

That may be attributable to the fact that people in Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba face an immediate future of having to be vaccinated in order to access non-essential services. Many large businesses are also making vaccination mandatory for employees, or considering it.

Manitoba’s vaccine passport mandate for non-essential services starts on Friday; Quebec’s comes into effect on Wednesday, with full enforcement as of Sept. 15; B.C.’s kicks in on Sept. 13.

Quebec and B.C. both reported immediate surges in vaccination appointments after their mandates were announced.

As this page has repeatedly argued, to minimize the effect of the fourth wave, Canada should be aiming to fully vaccinate at least 90 per cent of its eligible population. One way to get there is vaccine mandates and passports.

But by themselves, vaccine mandates and passports will not be enough to reach everyone who is vaccine hesitant, or uncertain, or fearful, or who simply hasn’t gotten around to it yet. What’s needed more than ever are campaigns that, beyond simply urging unvaccinated people to go out and find a place to get a shot, take the shots directly to them.

There are already good examples of this. The City of Toronto recently closed four of nine mass vaccination clinics, but those that remain open accept walk-ins, while the resources from the ones that were closed are being redirected to pop-up clinics in apartment buildings and neighbourhoods with low vaccine take-up.

In another example, Toronto’s east end Michael Garron Hospital is holding daily drop-in pop-up clinics in shopping malls, schools, community centres and even at a subway station – the kind of effort that can reel in people who are hesitant, or just busy.

These types of efforts must be spread far more widely. Health officials should be deploying vaccination teams to big box stores, sporting events, areas of town that have a lot of bars and restaurants, parks – anywhere people are found in numbers. Family doctors, from coast to coast, should be given the information they need to know which of their patients are unvaccinated – along with a financial incentive to phone up each and every one of them, and offer them shots.

And provinces should be reaching out, by letter, phone or a knock on the door, to every unvaccinated person. Offer them a chance to get a jab nearby, or at their door, today. That’s how Statistics Canada gets more than 98 per cent of people to complete the census.

Vaccine mandates are, in part, about making it difficult not to be vaccinated. But vaccine outreach is about making it difficult not to get vaccinated.

More than four-fifths of Canadians took little convincing to get inoculated – COVID-19 was motivation enough. But the rest were always going to be harder to reach. To help them along, the stick of vaccine mandates needs to be accompanied by the carrot of convenience and ease.

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