Vaccine passports: Alberta’s MyHealth Records could be ‘a challenge,’ experts say

While other jurisdictions have started implementing vaccine passports — or vaccine cards — to verify individuals’ COVID-19 vaccine status, the Alberta government has remained opposed.

Read more: Alberta rejects idea of federal vaccine passport being used as proof of COVID-19 vaccination

Instead, the province has been pointing to the MyHealth Records online portal as a way for Albertans to show proof of their vaccine status.

As outlined on the government website, verifying your MyHealth Records account involves several steps. First, your personal information is verified against your Alberta issued driver’s licence or ID card. Once that is complete, an activation code will be mailed to the address on the government-issued ID card. When you get that activation code, you can enter it on the MyHealth Records “manage account” page to complete the verification process.

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While the initial verification steps take several minutes, the mail out can take up to 10 days, the website says.

Albertans must verify their digital identity on the portal annual or when their driver’s licence or ID card expires.

Click to play video: 'Ethical concerns around vaccination passports' Ethical concerns around vaccination passports

Ethical concerns around vaccination passports

Global News has heard several concerns about using the MyHealth Records as proof of vaccination, including the first dose of a mixed dose series not showing up in the portal. Other concerns include Albertans travelling out of the country not being able to access the portal, and people having trouble not getting through on the help line.

“Assuming they have some form of internet connectivity, Albertans can access the MyHealth Records website and app while overseas,” a government spokesperson responded.

On Tuesday afternoon, a banner on the site advised there were technical difficulties and some features may not be available.

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“Work is underway to resolve the issue as quickly as possible,” said government spokesperson Lisa Glover. “We thank Albertans for their patience.”

Read more: 2 U.S. travellers fined $20K each for presenting fake COVID-19 vaccine documents in Toronto

“In the meantime, every Albertan, upon being vaccinated, received a paper copy record of their vaccination. This can also be used for proof of vaccination.”

There have also been questions raised from people who do not have access to a smartphone or aren’t comfortable using an internet portal.

“I went to that portal and I took a screen shot of my immunization. Does that make sense?” asked Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair, Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

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READ MORE: Calgary Chamber of Commerce pushing for COVID-19 vaccine passports in Alberta

“Other jurisdictions around the world have these cards that make it very easy for the private sector — for restaurants, for entertainment facilities — to check. They can do it very quickly, as opposed to this kind of uncertain situation we have in Alberta.”

“Yes, I think vaccine cards, vaccine certificates, whatever you’re going to call them, are a good idea.

“They’re sensible health policy, I think the evidence supports them and, you know what? The data tells us the public supports them too,” Caulfield said.

“So let’s do this now, let’s do it well, let’s standardize it, let’s make it happen.”

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Dr. Bogoch weighs in on mandatory vaccines & booster shots

Despite the government’s reluctance, several private businesses and venues in the province have started requiring proof of vaccination. 

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Edmonton lawyer Danica McLellan says it’s going to be challenging for businesses trying to enforce their own vaccine requirements.

“The provincial government does have a really good app that you can use… so that’s one option,” she told Global News.

“Not everyone obviously is going to have a smart phone to facilitate that.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge to be consistently enforcing that and I would just hope that people are always going to be respectful to employees who are asking them for that information.”

Caulfield said implementing a standard proof of vaccination would clarify and streamline the process across Alberta.

“Right now what we have is sort of this ad hoc rollout, with different institutions and private institutions requesting proof. Let’s standardize it, let’s make it easier for both Albertans and the private sector in order to implement a policy that seems to be emerging from the ground up.”

Read more: France sets vaccine appointment record after Macron ramps up pressure with policy

A vaccine passport policy also demonstrates that a province is committed to vaccination, Caulfield said.

“We know from other jurisdictions that adopting a formal policy like this can have a dramatic impact on the uptake of vaccines, we’ve seen that in France.

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“There are a whole bunch of reasons why this makes sense.”

Earlier in August it was announced Canada is getting a vaccine passport for international travel, which could also be used as domestic proof of vaccination.

“If the provinces wish to work with us in order to use our federal credentials within their province, we would be happy to work with them,” Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said.

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Businesses left with questions over vaccine policies

The vaccine certificate will be common across all provinces, and will include the holder’s COVID-19 vaccination history, the date they got it, the type of jab they received and the location where they received their shot.

“Alberta won’t be introducing a vaccine passport domestically, nor will we be supporting the use of the government of Canada’s international travel credential for uses within Alberta’s borders,” said Jerrica Goodwin, spokesperson for the premier’s office.

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Global News has reached out to the province for information about how people without smartphones or internet access will be able to see and share their vaccination status. This article will be updated when a response is received.

Elsewhere in Canada  

On Monday, B.C. announced people aged 12 and up will be required to show proof to enter indoor ticketed sporting events, indoor and patio dining in restaurants, fitness centres, casinos and indoor events such as conferences and weddings.

Read more: B.C. becomes third province to require proof of vaccination, starting Sept. 13

A secure weblink will be provided and publicized before Sept. 13, where people will be able to confidentially access their proof of vaccination.

B.C. residents will be able to save a copy to their phone to show it when entering or using designated businesses and events. Those who cannot access their records online will be provided with a secure alternative option, B.C. officials said.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Quebec to go ahead with implementing vaccine passport on Sept. 1' COVID-19: Quebec to go ahead with implementing vaccine passport on Sept. 1

COVID-19: Quebec to go ahead with implementing vaccine passport on Sept. 1

In July, Quebec announced plans for a vaccine certificate starting Sept. 1 that would cover non-essential services excluding retail.

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Manitoba has been using proof of immunization through QR codes for events like CFL football games as of Aug. 5.

Caulfield believes concerns about privacy issues are overblown.

“We’re talking about carrying around a card and showing it to someone — probably at the entrance to a facility…. We’re really just talking about a card that shows your vaccination status; we’re not talking about giving someone access to your health information.”

“I am not aware of any legal impediment to implementing these vaccine cards,” he added. “I think there could be privacy issues but they could be addressed. I’m certainly not aware of any concerns with respect to the Health Information Act.”

— With files from Richard Zussman, Global News

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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