Health Unit supports vaccination passports

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) said it is in full support of the recently announced vaccination passport in order to access certain facilities and recreational spaces.

Dr. Kit Young Hoon, medical officer of health at the (NWHU), said being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 reduces the likelihood of spreading the virus to others by limiting access to higher risk settings to those who are fully vaccinated.

“It protects our communities and our healthcare system,” Young Hoon said. “This measure will save lives and will help to keep our local businesses, workplaces and schools open.”

Young Hoon said the province chose to require proof of vaccination in settings where individuals are  within less than two metres of each other or they’re exerting themselves in a way that could increase or make it easier to spread COVID-19.

“The settings they have chosen are not considered essential,” Young Hoon said. “These are things that are optional for individuals. I think this is good news. It’ll improve the health of our population by encouraging people to get vaccinated and to think about getting vaccinated. It also reduces the likelihood of large groups of unvaccinated individuals coming together in a close and a high risk setting.”

Vaccine receipts could be downloaded from the NWHU’s website. These, along with photo ID, will be used as of Sept. 22 until the province’s app with the QR code is ready, which is expected by Oct. 22.

Some concerns have risen regarding privacy that could be violated with the implementation of the vaccination passport.

Young Hoon said although privacy is an issue that all healthcare professionals take very seriously, there needs to be a balance when dealing with an issue that could affect the entire population.

“While there might be a reduction in privacy for individuals on this, there are benefits for the general population, as it relates to reducing the spread of COVID-19,” Young Hoon said. “The broad spread of this virus has a significant effect on not only the health of the population, but just the social aspects of our population and economy.”

The health unit is still offering the COVID-19 vaccine, as well as some healthcare providers and pharmacies. Young Hoon said she encourages anyone who has decided to get their vaccine or those who still need a second dose to book an appointment or attend a walk-in clinic.

Young Hoon said the vaccine passport announcement does not apply to the school setting, adding that students aged 12 to 17 are encouraged to get vaccinated.

Young Hoon added that the NWHU is working closely with school boards and following the guidelines set by the Ministry of Education.

“Those guidelines cover quite comprehensively all the various public health measures that’s required in the school setting, such as physical distancing, masking, hand hygiene, and screening before you come,” Young Hoon said.

Young Hoon said at this point, the main driver of school cases would be case numbers in the community. Low number of positive cases in the community is good news for schools, Young Hoon added.

However, Young Hoon said, it is important for everyone to maintain vigilance, including students, staff and schools, but also the general broader community needs to be aware that what happens in the broader community will affect schools.

“As the fourth wave approaches and schools reopen, I remind the public to make preventive measures and normal parts of your daily life,” Young Hoon said. “Physical distancing hand hygiene, wearing masks and getting vaccinated all reduce the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.”

The Ontario province said there needs to be a national vaccination rate of about 85 per cent to avoid further lockdowns.

Over 115,000 COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in our region, by NWHU or by partner agencies.

The NWHU’s catchment area vaccination rate has been sitting in the 70 per cent range, a number Young Hoon called disappointing and a significant distance away from 85 per cent, adding that to prevent the spread of COVID-19, there needs to be higher vaccination rates.