Provincial Update: Vaccine passports and mandates will help us beat COVID-19

 Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP for Ottawa Centre

Public safety is top of mind as people insist on widespread vaccination for COVID-19. While progress has been made, significant groups of unvaccinated people remain in our province.

According to Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, the risk of being infected by COVID-19 is 20 times higher among unvaccinated residents compared to those who are vaccinated. The highly contagious Delta Variant is responsible for around 60 per cent of new cases in Ottawa. The spread of the virus now is a direct threat to the reopening of schools, and ending the pandemic restrictions we’ve lived with for so long. 

We urgently need vaccine mandates in healthcare and education, as well as vaccine passports, to protect people’s health. We need political leaders to stand up for what’s right, and for the wellbeing of folks who are most at risk from COVID-19.

We acknowledge there are barriers that remain for people who aren’t vaccinated, and we need to work hard to remove those barriers — including by ensuring that no one ever has to forfeit income by getting vaccinated. Low vaccination rates by neighbourhood correlate to folks living in poverty and working in precarious jobs. I salute Ottawa Public Health’s efforts to address these challenges.

Having said that, choosing to remain unvaccinated puts the health and safety of others at risk. There are legitimate health reasons for a small minority of people to avoid vaccination. But Premier Ford is allowing for mass exemptions in the healthcare and education sectors based on choice, and don’t let his expulsion of MPP Rick Nicholls from the PC caucus make you think otherwise. A failure to require those who work directly with vulnerable people to get vaccinated could imperil all the progress we’ve made so far. 

Also crucial in the fight against COVID-19 is a vaccine passport program that will help keep small businesses safe and operating. This is especially important for Ottawa residents who live, work and access services on both sides of the provincial border. After months of resisting calls to do so, Premier Ford finally announced that Ontario will adopt a vaccine passport program that will go in to effect on Sept. 22, with a digital verification app to follow on Oct. 22. While this news is welcome, it’s far too late and represents the bare minimum of what this government should be doing to address the fourth wave. 

Finally, I was proud to join Dr Nili Kaplan-Myrth on Aug. 22 for Safety-Palooza, a rally that pushed all politicians to support vaccine mandates in health care and education, along with a vaccine passport program so we can have a Safe September. 

We heard passionate appeals from healthcare and education workers who delivered a clear message: these measures will save lives, protect the vulnerable, and help us return to a sense of normalcy. Together with my colleagues in the official opposition, we’ll continue delivering this message to the provincial government until they do what’s right. 

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