Provinces launch plan to create a provincial vaccine passport

On the heels of new findings showing measles outbreaks in several Canadian provinces, officials in Ontario’s Sudbury and Greater Sudbury areas have called for the creation of a province-wide immunization passport.

The passport would include a registry of immunization records for all people who can currently be vaccinated through provincial exemptions. The information would then be accessible to anyone who asks for it, either in person or online.

“Public health has been providing information on the measures we can take to protect the vulnerable population,” said Dr. Marshall Hargrave, chair of the Global Immunization Initiative and regional medical officer for Northern Ontario in Sudbury. “But all information and programs are in place, they’re just not enough at this point.”

The calls come after the Centre for Disease Control announced on Feb. 2 an ongoing measles outbreak that had begun in December 2018 in Ontario and spread through the U.S.

Symptoms of measles include high fever, rash and cough. All of these symptoms usually start within two weeks of exposure. While there is a vaccine for measles, about 70 to 90 percent of the population still do not receive it. That rate has been held over time because of “cultural beliefs,” Hargrave said.

“It’s almost a cultural thing, this idea that to go through a process of getting immunized is somehow offensive to children,” he said. “That’s the impact people have that just don’t want to do it.”

Ontario residents can currently get exemptions for vaccination because of religious beliefs. The provincial government is currently reviewing potential changes.

“This measles outbreak here in Ontario can be traced back to people who did not receive a vaccine to prevent that disease,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement Monday. “So we have no option but to address this risk and look at the extra measures we can take to protect our children. This includes developing a vaccine passport system to track every child who is eligible for immunization in Ontario.”

Andrea Mrozek, co-chair of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Immunization Surveillance Committee, said vaccinating people doesn’t necessarily protect them.

“We know that there are people who, for whatever reason, are not able to receive a vaccine who then fall victim to infection,” she said. “But this is actually the same reason for having immunization.”

The call for a vaccine passport in Ontario comes as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the final rule for a federal immunization waiver program in the U.S. that allows medical conditions to be allowed exemptions, including religious and philosophical beliefs.

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