Ontario's vaccine passports fail to protect public health


October 14, 2021

OTTAWA, ON – Ontario’s government needs to set a firm end date for vaccine passports and transition to new, more effective policy for handling the later stages of the COVID pandemic. That’s the key recommendation in a new open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford from think tank Cardus. In the open letter, Cardus challenges the premier over vaccine passports that are “unjustified, unnecessary, and harmful overreach with serious short- and long-term consequences.”

“When you declared in mid-July that you would not tolerate the ‘split society’ of vaccine passports, Ontario was coping relatively well with the pandemic,” the open letter tells the premier. “Daily cases and test positivity were low, as were hospitalizations, including ICU occupancy. What emergency has arisen since that time to necessitate action as drastic as your proof-of-vaccination plan?”

The open letter notes that daily COVID cases in Ontario have not reached 1,000, while fourth-wave ICU occupancy is only at 17 percent of the third-wave peak. The letter also outlines several other problems with vaccine passports:

Vaccine passports disproportionately affect marginalized Ontarians, especially Black and low-income communities where vaccination rates are lowest. “The practical implications of this burden are appalling,” notes the open letter. “Proof-of-vaccination requirements mean that restaurants, indoor recreation facilities, cultural venues, and many other locations will be available to the vast majority of white or affluent Ontarians, while racialized people, the poor, and recent immigrants will be disproportionately excluded—other than to cook, serve, and clean.”

Ontario’s COVID Science Advisory Table admits there’s no direct evidence vaccine passports affect viral transmission. And passports don’t seem to be increasing vaccination rates. Ontario went from an average of almost 42,000 daily vaccine doses in August to less than 33,000 daily after the passport announcement.

The vaccine passport policy is disproportionate to the threat COVID poses. Vaccination rates among the most at-risk groups are very high. In Ontario, almost 98 percent of those above the age of eighty, and 96 percent of those over seventy, have had at least one dose. Those who are at greatest risk gain little in the way of risk reduction, as they are already highly protected by the vaccines themselves.

Vaccine passports erode public trust. If vaccines are highly protective, why must we go through such social disruption to keep the unvaccinated away from the vaccinated? If allowing the unvaccinated to dine in a restaurant or attend a concert is risky, how can it be safe to have these same individuals serve customers in these same establishments? If the policy will be in place for the shortest time possible, why is there no exit plan, and why is the government investing in a permanent digital application?

Passports create privacy problems. Ontario’s vaccine passport program will necessarily need data to operate, and once data exists it can be exposed or misused. Further, there are reasons to be concerned about data security, given that Quebec’s passport system was hacked immediately after launch and a private vaccine-passport app exposed the personal information of hundreds of thousands of users.

Ontario needs to change course on vaccine passports. The provincial government should adopt evidence-based policy, setting a firm end date soon for vaccine passports, replacing them with effective public policy through four effective steps:

  • Widespread use of rapid tests
  • Renewing efforts to reduce COVID vaccine hesitancy
  • Clear and consistent communication from political and health authorities
  • Planning and preparing for risk management, including through improving hospital and ICU capacity

Full details on reasonable, evidence-based alternatives to vaccine passports are available in our open letter: We’ve Got Better Options - Vaccine Passports Are a Failure. Here’s What to Do Instead.


 Daniel Proussalidis
 Cardus – Director of Communications


Cardus is a non-partisan think tank dedicated to clarifying and strengthening, through research and dialogue, the ways in which society's institutions can work together for the common good.