In absence of provincial vaccine passport, WDGPH encouraging certificate-based approach

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Local medical officers of health are actively encouraging businesses and other organizations to embrace a regionalized vaccine “certificate” system in absence of a provincially-led vaccine passport.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health medical officer of health Dr. Nicola Mercer confirmed she is actively discussing using a certificate-based approach to prove vaccination status with Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, where appropriate in the two health unit districts.

“We support a provincial approach to avoid regional differences, however in the interim we are exploring how to utilize COVax vaccine receipts locally,” Mercer said, referring to downloadable vaccination receipts offered by the province.

“I’m encouraging businesses and other organizations to accept that piece of paper in the interim as proof because that’s what it is,” Mercer said in an Aug. 27 phone call with the Advertiser.

But Mercer cautioned against calling the approach a passport.

“I’m reluctant to use the word passport—I think that a certification process is appropriate,” she said.

“I think it’s really important—and I would emphasize this—the only reason we need this in the first place is because we have lots of people who are still not vaccinated,” Mercer remarked.

Even with a 78% of the health region fully vaccinated as of Aug. 27, Mercer said “we still have a long way to go.”

“I am strongly advocating for people to be vaccinated and then the need for a certificate or passport or whatever you wish to call it becomes a moot point if we have very high vaccination rates—and so that’s the ideal endpoint that we need to get to in our society.”

The certificate-as-proof of vaccination approach is being embraced by other medical officers of health across the province after an Aug. 25 meeting between them, discussing the desire for an electronic-based system to augment paper certificates.

Mercer confirmed she was a part of the Wednesday meeting, and emphasized doctors want to see the province lead the way.

“We do as medical officers of health support and want a provincial system beyond what is in existence in the provincial system,” Mercer said, adding she does not support different systems across the province’s individual health units.

The provincial government has repeatedly said it will not implement a vaccine passport nor mandate vaccinations for Ontarians.

The Advertiser submitted specific, itemized questions to Ontario health minister Christine Elliott’s office, receiving a generic statement in response from press secretary Alexandra Hilkene, saying Ontarians already have access to vaccine receipts should proof of vaccination be required in certain settings.

The receipts have been criticized for being easily forgeable, but Mercer said the certificates are “similar to other pieces of paper we have in our life that provide proof of things” and although people “may not like the type of proof they have” it still serves the purpose.

“So, there is a system; it is not perhaps a system that everybody wants,” Mercer said.

“What we are doing right now is we are working within the existing provincial system … encouraging people to get that piece of paper, encouraging organizations and businesses to accept that piece of paper and then we also wish and support if the province moves forward with an electronic system, we would obviously, happily switch and promote that.”

The Advertiser responded to Elliott’s press secretary with a follow-up email reposing a question about vaccine passports in the future and asking for comment from Minister Elliott on local health units undertaking efforts to create their own passport-like systems.

Hilkene did not answer whether the province would specifically consider implementing a vaccine passport system in the future and did not provide comment from Minister Elliott.

Mercer did not say if she had any indication from the province about the future potential for an electronic-based vaccine passport but said, “I know that this is an active file of discussion.”

In other provinces, including Quebec and B.C., proof of vaccination is required for access to some events and businesses and Manitoba has produced a scannable vaccination card.