OPINION: If vaccine passports will prevent future lockdowns in Mississauga and Ontario, they’re worth it

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Published July 19, 2021 at 8:25 pm

vaccinepassport

Ontario needs vaccination passports and it needs them before Labour Day weekend.

Why? Because the province must do absolutely everything in its power to prevent another lockdown. 

Recently, the Province of Quebec announced that it will be implementing its own COVID-19 vaccination passport, a free, official document that proves the holder is fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. 

The passport will allow fully vaccinated residents to travel abroad and, importantly, access local services deemed non-essential (gyms, bars, restaurants, galleries, festivals, events, etc) at times when infections are on the rise. 

While vaccine passports are seemingly too controversial for the Ontario government to even consider–in fact, Premier Doug Ford recently suggested they would create a “split society”–they should be a no-brainer at a time when medical experts are already talking about a fourth wave that could rip through the unvaccinated population (which includes those who are currently ineligible to be vaccinated, such as children under the age of 12) in the fall. 

There are a lot of reasons to support the creation of vaccine passports but one of the most pressing reasons, besides curbing future infections, is preventing another lockdown (or even another partial economic shutdown). 

While many would argue that the rolling lockdowns that strangled Mississauga, Brampton, Caledon, Halton, Hamilton and Toronto businesses for the better part of a year were worth it and that no one “needs” to see a movie, peruse a gallery or eat inside of a restaurant, those people cannot argue that the shutdowns did no harm. 

The pandemic and associated public health measures, which included unprecedented, months-long shutdowns of large swaths of the economy, had a profound impact on our financial, emotional and physical health. 

Last week, a refreshed provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database indicated that more than 5,500 Canadians between the ages of 0 and 64 died during the first 13 months of the pandemic. However, fewer than 25 per cent of those deaths were directly attributed to COVID-19.

This suggests “that the excess mortality is, in large part, related to other factors such as increases in the number deaths attributed to causes associated with substance use and misuse, including unintentional (accidental) poisonings and diseases and conditions related to alcohol consumption,” the report from Statistics Canada states.

From April through June of last year, an estimated 605 people in Ontario died of unintentional poisonings–a 27 per-cent increase over the first three months year. In the second half of 2020, there were 1,155 deaths attributed to accidental poisonings–a 199 per cent increase over the same span of 2019.

According to StatsCan, deaths from accidental poisoning can include different circumstances such as individuals using substances recreationally along with those who mistakenly ingest too much prescription or over-the-counter medications.

The Ontario Drug Policy Network, based at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, has also said that Ontario had a significant spike in opioid deaths in 2020.

The impact on businesses has also–and continues to be–profound. 

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), only 68 per cent of small businesses were open as of July 15, with only 33 per cent of arts and recreation and 32 per cent of hospitality-based businesses having reopened. 

The debate about COVID-related restrictions often came down to livelihoods vs lives and while that made the shutdowns understandable, the situation in Ontario is not what it was in July 2020. With 61 per cent of residents over the age of 12 having received two shots as of July 19, 2021, the idea of a fall or winter shutdown–even a regional one affecting “non-essential” businesses–should terrify everyone who struggled through the last 16 months and did their part to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. 

With so many people vaccinated, another lockdown seems unlikely. That said, many people are trepidatious because Ontario’s health care capacity is limited. 

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, recently tweeted that the province needs to prepare to create safer indoor spaces to offset any potential fall surge in infections.  

“While COVID-19 vaccines work extraordinarily well, there are enough unvaccinated folks who could get sick [and] require medical care,” Bogoch tweeted. 

“Even if we see lower overall COVID-related healthcare usage due to significant vaccine uptake, we can’t ignore pressure on healthcare system. Think about healthcare capacity in Canada. Ontario had to essentially shut down to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system with ~600 patients admitted to ICUs with COVID-related illness. We ended up with 920. This is in a province of ~14.5 million. That’s a problem.” 

While Bogoch tweeted that Ontario could manage any potential uptick in cases by making schools, workplaces and other indoor areas safer, lowering barriers to vaccination, addressing vaccine hesitancy with “empathy and data” and working to combat misinformation, it’s unclear whether the province is paying attention. 

Given the province’s track record over the past 16 months, it’s hard to have confidence that Ontario’s leadership is working around the clock to create safer indoor spaces, beef up health care capacity and improve infection control measures.  

For that reason, a vaccine passport that could be utilized to prevent unvaccinated (by choice) Ontarians from entering restaurants, galleries, movie theatres, stadiums, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and non-essential retail during times of high transmission could work to keep such spaces open. 

It might even compel some people to talk to their doctors or other trusted professionals about the vaccine and, ultimately, choose to get it.  

For some, the suggestion of a vaccine passport sounds terribly dystopian–a criminal invasion of privacy and a sign that the state is ready and willing to force people to disclose “private” medical information to obtain privileges and access certain services. But the province has already interfered in people’s lives in extraordinary ways and while it stopped short of allowing police to arbitrarily stop people and inquire about why they weren’t at home, it closed down entire sectors of the economy for months and threw untold numbers of people out of work. 

In fact, the province told you–and continues to tell you–how many people you can have inside your home (it’s 25, by the way). It told you you couldn’t eat in a restaurant, work out in a gym, shop at Homesense (in the flesh, at least), drink in a bar, see a play or movie in a theatre, see a basketball or hockey game in person or travel to Quebec for non-essential purposes. 

The province closed schools to in-person learning multiple times. 

The Ontario government enforced these rules in the name of public health and the public by and large supported the premier and his cabinet. In fact, a Campaign Research study conducted between March 29 and 31, 2021, found that two-thirds of participants supported restrictions intended to curb the spread of the virus.  

After months of being told to stay home–and listening to other residents shame people mercilessly for daring to miss live theatre or shopping malls–a vaccine passport seems a remarkably small price to pay for normal life.  

It also won’t be in place forever. 

At this point, there is no evidence to suggest the vaccines are unsafe for the vast majority of residents (yes, COVID vaccines can have adverse effects, but this is true of any shot). According to multiple health experts, COVID-19 vaccines will not change your DNA, cause long-term complications, give you COVID, make you infertile or kill you.  

A vaccine passport that will bar unvaccinated (again, by choice) people from certain businesses sounds extreme but these are not normal times and after so many people have made incredible sacrifices to protect the vulnerable and our scandalously underfunded health care system, it’s time to do everything we can to protect our economy and the people who keep it going. 

It’s time to protect our workers and the institutions they run that feed, clothe, entertain and enrich us. It’s time to protect our restaurants, fitness facilities, cultural centres and entertainment facilities. 

Another shutdown should not be acceptable come the fall and it’s time for the province to make hard–and perhaps unpopular–choices to protect the workers, businesses and people who have suffered enough already. 

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