Is having to show proof of vaccination to perform certain jobs, or to enter certain places, an invasion of privacy? Is it an imposition? Is it unwarranted?
In Ontario, parents preparing to send kids to school have long had to immunize them against a long list of communicable diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, whooping cough and chickenpox.
As part of that, Ontario parents have to provide proof of their child’s vaccination – a vaccination certificate, if you will. It’s the law, with exceptions only for valid medical or religious reasons.
And to be a paramedic in Ontario, you must be inoculated against nine different diseases. It’s a condition of employment, under the province’s Ambulance Act.
In both cases, the rules are simple. Enforcement is easy, and minimally intrusive. You show that your children have been vaccinated once in a lifetime, when they’re very young – and that’s it. Proving immunization is similarly a one-time thing for Ontario’s paramedics. These are models for boosting this country’s individual and collective protection against an already-rising fourth wave of COVID-19.
To attend university or college in person, of course you should have to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Hundreds of universities in the United States have made it a condition of on-campus learning, but in Canada, so far only Seneca College, Western University and the University of Ottawa have done so.
This can’t be left up to university administrators, whose careers are built on conflict avoidance, decision deflection and a passion for the path of least resistance. They’re begging for the issue to be taken off their hands, and that’s what provinces should do. Make vaccination a higher-ed prerequisite.
The same goes for schoolchildren aged 12 and up. In Ontario, that means adding COVID-19 to the required immunizations list. In other provinces, most of which expect vaccination for childhood illnesses but don’t require it, a COVID-19 vaccine rule should be adopted.
And some jobs, involving close contact with vulnerable people or close working conditions, or both, should have COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The most obvious are those in health care. Of course health care workers should have to get immunized. The same goes for workers in long-term care, elder care, education and higher education, and in public safety – police, firefighters and the military. We want to lessen the odds that they will catch or transmit COVID-19, and lower the chances that they will miss work (or worse) because of illness.
Right now, the talk is all about vaccine passports – after Quebec announced it is releasing one, which can be downloaded onto a smartphone. As of Sept. 1, some non-essential businesses in the province, such as bars, restaurants and gyms, will be required to check vaccination status, and only admit the fully vaccinated.
Other provinces are under pressure to follow suit. Manitoba already has an immunization card system, but most provinces have insisted, with various degrees of weakening conviction, that they won’t go down that road.
Their resistance doesn’t make a lot of sense. A proof-of-vaccination pass, whether a certificate, card or app, merely involves the provincial government – which knows when, where and with what you were vaccinated – making that information available to you in a secure format. Proving vaccination before entering a bar would be akin to proving your age before entering a bar. And a vaccine passport could contain far less information than a driver’s license – no address or date of birth, just confirmation of immunization.
Although this page endorses vaccine passports in some situations, on the Quebec model, we also know that ensuring compliance at thousands of doors, millions of times a week, will involve some complexity and probably a certain amount of non-compliance.
In contrast, mandating vaccination for certain jobs and for in-person education would cover millions of people, instantly. And these mandates would be relatively simple for employers and schools to enforce. Provinces and the feds, each in their respective spheres, should get moving – now.
Canada can bring in both vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, and it should. Why? Because in most of the country, the vaccination level is still too low. We have to aim higher. Public-health officials know it, and they keep saying it. More on that, later this week.
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