Alberta doctors, chambers of commerce push for COVID-19 vaccine passport

In an open letter to Premier Jason Kenney, 65 infectious diseases physicians from across Alberta call for immediate province-wide restrictions of access to indoor non-essential businesses and services for people who are not immunized against COVID-19.

The letter, dated Sept. 13, is addressed to the premier, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Read more: Alberta health minister defends decision against COVID-19 vaccine passport amid repeated questioning

“We, Alberta’s infectious diseases physicians, are writing to convey our gravest concerns about the safety of the province’s current COVID-19 approach, and to request immediate province-wide restricted access for unimmunized individuals to public indoor spaces for the purpose of accessing non-essential services,” the letter reads.

“This measure can immediately decrease new infections, thereby alleviating pressure on hospitals, while avoiding widespread lockdowns, now and in the future.

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“Hospitals and ICUs across the province are under enormous strain and have reached a point where it is unclear if, or for how much longer, we can provide safe care for Albertans. The number of COVID-19 patients needing ICU currently exceeds the total number of fully staffed ICU beds.

“While surge capacity allows for additional beds, the human resources cannot be similarly scaled up,” the letter continues.

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Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects continued spike in ICU admissions this month

The group of doctors says, at the current rate, the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to ICU will double every two weeks. The group points out that more than 90 per cent of Alberta patients in ICU with COVID-19 are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.

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“Our healthcare system is truly on the precipice of collapse,” the doctors’ letter reads.

They say they don’t believe the current measures “go nearly far enough to interrupt transmission.” They also say the health-care system is so overwhelmed that the lack of stronger measures “will result in devastating consequences, further compromising our ability to care for Albertans with any medical conditions.”

The letter goes on to say: “We are calling for urgent, decisive action to break chains of COVID-19 transmission.

“To prevent broad restrictions like those required in earlier waves, we are calling for immediate implementation of certificates of immunity that individuals must provide to enter any indoor public space for the purpose of accessing a non-essential service.

“This would ensure the safety of individuals who chose not to be vaccinated, enable businesses to continue to operate safely, and provide a strong incentive for vaccination.”

The doctors write the vaccination certificate and access rules “must be mandated by the provincial government, as is being done in nearly all other Canadian jurisdictions.”

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The letter states that if the province cannot implement this kind of vaccine passport system, Alberta should bring back familiar restrictions immediately, like limiting the size of indoor gatherings, closing highest-risk businesses (indoor dining and bars) with government support for businesses, and work-from-home rules.

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“We, the undersigned, firmly believe that only strong and decisive leadership through the above actions can avert an imminent public health crisis in our province,” the letter concludes.

Read more: Up to 70% of Edmonton zone surgeries to be postponed due to ‘COVID-19 activity’: AHS

On Monday, Alberta Health Services announced up to 70 per cent of elective surgeries and outpatient procedures in the Edmonton zone were being postponed in an effort to create “sufficient ICU and inpatient capacity” to manage COVID-19 activity. AHS said only priority cancer, urgent and emergent surgeries would be performed.

Last week, AHS postponed “all scheduled elective surgeries and many outpatient procedures for the remainder of (the) week” at Calgary hospitals.

The reductions allow AHS to free up space for patients requiring inpatient care and critical care supports, while also allowing front-line staff to be deployed to the areas of greatest need.

Read more: COVID-19 cases down after France introduced its vaccine passport — will the same happen in Canada?

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Provincial officials have been asked repeatedly over the last several weeks why Alberta has no current plans to introduce a proof-of-vaccination program.

During a news conference on Friday in Rocky Mountain House, Shandro was questioned again about whether Alberta will have a system similar to the one in B.C., where residents have proof of vaccination on either an app or a scannable card, and along with it, province-wide restrictions will be in place preventing unvaccinated people from entering some settings, like non-essential businesses.

Read more: Alberta to offer immunization confirmation cards, but says vaccine passports a no-go

Shandro said the government is prioritizing ensuring that businesses or workplaces that want to implement their own restrictions, can do so quickly through a secure QR code.

“When it comes to the question of whether it’s going to be government mandated, we have — as we’ve communicated before, premier said before — we are right now enabling those workplaces and businesses to be able to make those decisions,” he said.

“We are going to continue to look at the evidence on how that affects our vaccine uptake. If there is evidence… as we see the vaccine passports, as they are enabled in other provinces, I’m happy to look at that information.

“But at this time, we have made the decision for these decisions (to) be led by those workplaces and by those businesses.”

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On Monday, the Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce added their members’ voices to the call for a provincially-mandated vaccine passport system.

Leger recently conducted a survey for the chambers on this topic and the majority of Alberta businesses supported the idea.

“When faced with further restrictions, businesses tell us vaccine certification will allow them to remain open with much more certainty than current measures provide,” said Deborah Yedlin, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.

“In light of rising cases and stagnant vaccination rates, vaccine certification is a straightforward way to keep our economy open and stimulate vaccination rates.

“We’ve seen it work in other jurisdictions.”

The survey found 70 per cent of businesses and 74 per cent of citizens support a vaccine passport or vaccine certification.

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The survey found 13 per cent of businesses and 12 per cent of the general population are opposed to vaccine certification.

Both chambers are pushing the province to adopt a government-led vaccine certification to protect Albertans’ health and well-being as part of “measures that support a safe, sustainable and permanent reopening.”

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The top reason businesses said they supported a vaccine certification was to avoid widespread lockdowns (61 per cent), followed by ensuring the health and safety of workers (58 per cent) and strengthening consumer confidence (58 per cent.)

“Businesses and residents have clearly indicated the need for a standardized framework to ensure consumer confidence and protect worker safety,” said Jeffrey Sundquist, president and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce.

“As other jurisdictions move ahead with implementing vaccine certifications, we cannot be left behind and have local business risk losing their competitive edge when it comes to attracting workers, customers and investors.”

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Read more: Alberta’s latest COVID-19 measures cause frustration for doctors, restaurant owners

“Despite overwhelming support for vaccine passports from business leaders in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney and the UCP still refuse to take the obvious step of implementing one, which would keep Albertans safe, keep businesses open, and protect jobs,” said Deron Bilous, NDP economic development critic.

“Instead of implementing a vaccine passport, Kenney has imposed new restrictions on businesses. These restrictions were put in place with very little notice and without any financial support for impacted businesses, further hurting economic growth and risking job losses.”

On Sept. 3, Alberta announced a province-wide mask mandate for indoor settings and a change to liquor laws, with alcohol service being cut off at 10 p.m.

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The Leger survey asked 1,000 citizens in Edmonton and Calgary and 71 members of the Edmonton and Calgary chambers, and was conducted between Aug. 19 and Sept. 1, 2021.

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