THUNDER BAY - The implementation of a vaccine passport or certification policy in the province of Ontario is welcome news to the district’s medical officer of health, who says it will not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but help increase immunization rates as well.
“Evidence shows when you have a vaccine certification process where people are not able to attend certain events that are not essential does help get people immunized and does improve the safety of those particular events or locations,” said Thunder Bay District Health Unit medical officer of health, Dr. Janet DeMille.
On Wednesday, the provincial government announced its plans for a vaccine passport, which will require individuals to show proof of immunization against COVID-19 when accessing non-essential services and events, such as restaurants, bars, cinemas, concerts, and gyms.
The policy will take effect on Sept. 22, with a more streamlined digital QR system on smartphones expected to be up and running by Oct. 22.
Premier Doug Ford had long resisted implementing a vaccine passport policy, though health units across the province said if there was no provincial system in place, individual policies could be developed.
DeMille said having a province-wide system makes much more sense as there will be no issues with consistency across various health unit catchment areas.
The vaccine passport is expected to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 while allowing businesses to remain open. However, DeMille said she expects it will also help increase immunization rates.
“As we move into fall and the cooler weather and some of the modelling that was released yesterday and even with what’s already happening, the case numbers are going up in other jurisdictions, it’s very important that we use the tool that we have to reduce or mitigate the impact and the big one is the vaccination,” she said.
“I do anticipate there will be an increase. We are already seeing a bit of an increase as we approach the fall.”
The Thunder Bay District already has one of the highest immunization rates in the province with 73 per cent of eligible individuals over the age of 12 full vaccinated. But the threat of a fourth wave fueled by the highly infectious delta variant is very real and the district is likely to see daily case numbers increase.
“As I look at what is happening in other jurisdictions, especially with the delta variant and different levels of vaccination and some of the modelling that has been done, it is concerning what we might expect for what’s coming down the road,” DeMille said.
“I think we cannot avoid COVID being here and having larger numbers of cases. I think it’s going to come and spread and we will have to manage that. I think the biggest thing though is we have various public health measures still in place, including indoor public masking.”
In an effort to increase the vaccination rate in the district even further, the health unit is setting up various pop-up clinics, including one that was held at Intercity Shopping Centre on Thursday.
“We are also looking at other location-based clinics, including at the mall to make it fairly easy for people who might be doing some back to school shopping and they can just get it when they are there,” DeMille said.
“Our experience is we can get people who may not be the ones who go to the Coliseum clinic or a pharmacy or primary care, that we are there and they take advantage of that.”
The vaccine clinic at the CLE Coliseum is still open for pre-booked appointments through the provincial portal and walk-in appointments.