Ontario health units want provincial vax cert, say regional options limited

·3 min read

TORONTO — Faced with the province's refusal to implement a COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination system, local public health units in Ontario are considering regional vaccine certificates, though they acknowledge the measure would be less effective.

Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, head of the Local Association of Public Health Agencies, said a provincial system would help control access to certain activities and settings based on vaccination status.

If that doesn't happen, he said the group of local public health units has discussed the possibility of using regional vaccine certificates similar to those being implemented in other provinces.

"We had a conversation, and it was an exploratory conversation because we're still hoping that there will be a provincial approach," Roumeliotis said Thursday in an interview.

"If it's done in a regulation or a law or a provincial directive it's just easier to do, rather than to have multiple health units issue orders and issue directives. Really, from the logistics point of view, it's just an easier way to do it."

Roumeliotis, who is also the medical officer of health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, noted that a growing number of institutions are already asking for proof of vaccination in order to attend, even without a provincewide mandate. A standardized certificate from the province would help facilitate those policies, he said.

A spokeswoman for the health minister pointed to the receipts people can download or print after receiving their COVID-19 shots as an option should proof of vaccination be required.

Roumeliotis and others have argued, however, that those receipts can be forged and are difficult to read.

Peel Region's top doctor said this week that the COVID-19 hot spot is looking at options for a local proof-of-vaccination system if the province doesn't develop one.

Dr. Lawrence Loh said Thursday that the idea, and discussions with other health units about it, is in early stages and likely won't involve a new physical certificate or digital record.

"We're looking at ... ways to use existing proofs of vaccination," he said, adding that it's the health unit's preference that the province develop the technology.

The mayor of Mississauga, a large urban centre in Peel Region, said she doesn't consider regional vaccine certificates to be a practical solution.

"I believe a standardized, provincewide proof-of-vaccination program is more effective than a patchwork of programs and apps developed by regional public health officials and local businesses," Bonnie Crombie told a news conference.

Toronto Public Health has also expressed support for a provincial system.

Ontario's chamber of commerce released guidance this week for private businesses seeking to develop proof-of-vaccination protocols, saying it did so "in the absence of government guidance."

British Columbia and Quebec have said they will require proof of vaccination to enter certain settings but Ontario has not indicated it will implement a similar system.

Premier Doug Ford has rejected the idea of a domestic "vaccine passport," saying he doesn't want a "split society."

The province's COVID-19 science advisers have said that vaccine certificates would allow high-risk settings to reopen sooner with greater capacity and help plan to reintroduce public health measures as cases rise.

Ontario reported 678 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, with 537 of the infected people not vaccinated or with unknown vaccination status.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.

- With files from Nicole Thompson

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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