Federal data shows tens of thousands of people in Canada’s largest provinces received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine after public announcements of a vaccine passport, even before the new policy came into effect.
Vaccine passports require residents to show proof of vaccination before accessing some businesses deemed at a higher risk for transmission of the virus.
In Ontario, the policy came into effect on Sept. 22 with a proof of vaccination required to go to restaurants, bars, sports venues, gyms, theatres, cinemas and casinos.
The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said he hoped the program would result in a meaningful increase in vaccination uptake to rival the province of Quebec, which now boasts almost 90 per cent of eligible people over the age of 12 with at least one dose.
‘The fire can’t burn anymore’
Ontario currently has about 85 per cent of eligible residents with at least one dose.
“I think we can get three more per cent from this policy initiative to better protect those high-risk environments. And there’s no reason why we can’t achieve Quebec’s rates of protection,” said Moore.
The bump in vaccination may not have been the primary goal behind the policy to bring in passports, but the impact in boosting uptake is “massive,” according to Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table,
“As we get higher, the reduction in transmission becomes exponential, and it’s like the fire can’t burn anymore,” said Manuel.
This week’s modelling showed the province has seen fewer cases and hospitalizations than projected in the fourth wave, but the science table continues to monitor the situation closely.
“It’s still very fragile, it’s still really tentative,” said Manuel.
An analysis of federally released vaccination data for the provinces of Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta show increases in the weekly rate of first doses immediately after the policy announcement.
Quebec was the first of these provinces to announce a vaccine passport policy on Aug. 10.
The rate of first doses had reached its lowest point at the end of June and remained consistent until the policy was announced, then the uptake began to increase.
The federal data shows the week the vaccine passports came into effect, there was a 50 per cent increase in the rate of first doses given.
B.C. announced its vaccine mandate on Aug. 23 as the province’s first dose uptake slowed to its lowest rate since vaccinations began.
The following week, the weekly rate of first doses given almost doubled, and has since stabilized.
Ontario announced its vaccine mandate on Sept. 1 after languishing for two weeks in a record low vaccine uptake. The province acted slower than Quebec and B.C.
The plan was leaked the week prior, which led to an immediate increase in the uptake of first doses, while several organizations had also announced their own vaccine mandates.
Like Quebec, the weekly rate eventually reached a number that was 50 per cent higher than the low point from the late summer.
Alberta was the last to act among Canada’s four largest provinces, but it saw the largest increase in vaccine uptake.
Premier Jason Kenney announced the province’s vaccine mandate on Sept. 15.
After weeks of waning rates of first doses given, the data shows a threefold bump in the rate of vaccination.
As of Sept. 18, Alberta was one of only two provinces or territories, along with Saskatchewan, where less than 80 per cent of the eligible population has at least one dose, so there is more room to grow.