"Is this necessary?" Calls grow to end BC's vaccine passport system

Feb 10 2022, 7:40 pm

Some British Columbians say the vaccine card program isn’t necessary anymore in BC. 

Dr. Kevin McLeod, an internist who treats COVID-19 patients at North Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Hospital, took to social media this month to voice his view on the passports.

“Vaccine mandates initially made sense. I supported them. At this stage of the pandemic, they do not make sense. It shouldn’t be political. It’s time they are removed,” he said. 

“With Omicron, the vaccinated and unvaccinated spread it around equally. You aren’t safer in a room with the vaccinated, unvaccinated or in between.”

Alberta has already gotten rid of its passport, and Saskatchewan is preparing to do the same.

Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, agrees with McLeod’s stance to an extent.

“We can now see sunsetting the vaccination card program because we’ve done the job. I mean, we’ve gotten so many people vaccinated in British Columbia,” said Tostenson.

“What’s important on the vaccination card is that we don’t just end it overnight because we have trained people to pull out the card to go to places where they know they’re with vaccinated people, so that’s been a whole part of public health and safety.”

Moving slowly and carefully is important to being smart and successful throughout the remainder of the pandemic, he said.

“But I do think we should be looking sometime between now and June to start saying, ‘To what extent is this necessary?’”

While COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped in BC this week, deaths have been high, and the provincial health authority hasn’t said anything about plans to drop the passport program.

So far, it has been extended to June 30, although Dr. Bonnie Henry has indicated the program could be ended sooner.

“When we can reach that point of balancing – which has been the intent the entire time – the need for it and the amount of hospitalizations and deaths we are seeing,” she said in a statement.

Tostenson anticipates the program will end before June.

“To the province I would say, ‘We know there’s an end in sight.’ We’ve never been in this position in two years where we’re actually moving to a whole new chapter in managing this,” he said. 

“It’s time to move to the next model of how to manage a virus in the system, but at the same time trying to restore as much normality to business and life as possible. Again, the answer for us is moving quickly but moving in a way that the public are reassured as well to that we’re working on this together.”

Jeff Guignard, executive director for ABLE BC, agrees it’s time to start thinking about slowly phasing out the program. His organization is the voice for bars, pubs, and private liquor stores in the province, which have all been heavily impacted by public health restrictions.

“Certainly when you see other provinces and jurisdictions moving, it makes us question when is the right time to do it here in BC, and no one knows,” he said.

“For the industry, though, the vaccine passports are hindering out business and out ability to get back to normal. They had more to do with restrictions around group sizes … which puts a capacity restriction on the industry.”

It’s still important to move forward carefully and safely, he adds.

“Our goal is to keep our staff and our customers safe, but when we’re looking at really high vaccination rates — and 90% of the population has been double vaccinated — it seems like that’s as high as it’s going to get in groups,” he said. 

“When does this make sense? Because there’s a certain percentage of British Columbians who don’t want to or are unable to get vaccinated.” 

He’s not sure when the best time to drop the program is, but trusts the provincial health authority to reassess as COVID-19 numbers change.

“Is it really about vaccine passports? It’s a reflection of frustration having to access COVID protocols two years after we started,” he said.

Some restrictions are still loosening in the province, including the 50% capacity cap and six-person table limit at restaurants.

Aly LaubeAly Laube

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