Well worth the headaches
With just a week to go before people in Ontario have to start flashing their COVID vaccination papers to get into bars, restaurants, gyms, theatres and other venues, the Ford government unveiled more details of how its system will work. It’s clear the early days will be a little rocky. Government officials admit that fake medical exemptions could be a problem — especially in the first month when the system is run on paper because Ontario’s personalized QR code and verification app won’t be ready until Oct. 22.
And there’s a confusing list of more routine exemptions to the requirement to be fully immunized, such as being able to use a washroom in a restaurant. Or being unvaccinated at a wedding ceremony, but not at the after-party. Or placing a bet and (hopefully) picking up one’s winnings at a horse track.
Navigating these nuances and many more is sure to cause headaches for businesses and customers alike. Especially if tempers flare and, as we’ve seen through recent protests, there are strong feelings among those who reject vaccine mandates and certificates.
The government is, as Health Minister Christine Elliott put it, “asking people to be reasonable.”
Throughout the pandemic, for the most part, Ontarians have proven to be exactly that. Still, there can’t help but be some problems ahead.
But, let’s be clear, whatever the implementation challenges of the next few weeks, a vaccine certificate is worth the effort.
We need only look west, more specifically to Alberta, to know how bad things can get when a government doesn’t make the effort. Or even accepts the need for public health measures like vaccine certificates.
Alberta leads the country in new COVID cases. Its hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients; kidney transplants and brain cancer surgeries are being postponed. Doctors are raising triage protocols for critical-care patients — something not needed in the previous waves.
A group of Alberta doctors last week said the province’s health-care system “truly is at the brink of collapse.”
And this week, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said she “deeply” regrets her part in the government’s summer narrative that “COVID is over.”
She also said it’s “pretty clear” that vaccine requirements, like those in British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and soonto-be Ontario, have an important impact on vaccine take-up.
Whether that changes anything for Premier Jason Kenney, who has staunchly opposed vaccine certificates, is unclear. But it should make Ontarians feel better about the course we’re on.
Unlike Alberta and some other jurisdictions, the Ford government maintained mask mandates over the summer. And it moved to bring in a vaccine certificate system (albeit later than it should have) to reduce the spread of the virus.
Even with those far better choices, Ontarians still aren’t guaranteed an easy fall. That’s not what anyone wants to hear, but it’s the reality of the highly contagious Delta variant combined with a vaccination rate that has stalled below the required level of 90 per cent
The good news is that the Ontario’s decision to require proof of vaccination for a range of non-essential activities has already helped increase vaccine take-up.
In the week following the government’s announcement, said Elliott, the number of people who rolled up their sleeves for a first dose increased by 29 per cent.
The sobering news is that Ontario must administer at least 718,000 first doses and 1.5 million second doses to reach the goal of having 90 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated. At the current pace, that’s still more than six weeks away.
No doubt there will be a lot of nitpicking and frustration, much of it warranted, over the rollout of Ontario’s vaccine certificate. But whatever problems arise will be well worth the trouble. To see the alternative path, just look at what Alberta is going through.