Vaccine passports and mandates will help us beat COVID


Joel Harden
MPP Ottawa Centre

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Vaccine passports and mandates will help us beat COVID

By Joel Harden

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 for the unvaccinated than for those who are vaccinated. The highly contagious Delta variant is responsible for about 60 per cent of new cases in Ottawa. The spread of the virus now is a direct threat to the reopening of schools and an obstacle to 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 health-care 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 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 into effect on September 22 with a digital verification app to follow on October 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 August 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. We heard passionate appeals from health-care 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 it does what’s right.

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