The province’s rollout of the vaccine card will likely be received positively, a health sciences professor from Simon Fraser University said.
Health officials had rolled out the vaccine card on Monday (Aug. 23) and it will be required for entry into many venues and events, including ticketed sports events, fitness centres and restaurants, starting on Sept. 13. One dose will be required for entry on that day, with two doses being required by Oct. 24.
“I think that it sends a message that we as a society expect people to be vaccinated if they want to participate in the full activities we have to offer in our society,” Lear told Black Press Media by phone shortly after the announcement, noting that the COVID shot is not the only one: “we have lots of other requirements in society.”
Those requirements include clothing – “no shoes, no shirt, no service” – but also about wearing seatbelts, not smoking in restaurants and even having the correct tires for winter highway driving.
Lear, who is the Pfizer/Heart & Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research, said the newness of the vaccine will likely drive some of the pushback. He pointed at smoking in public venues, particularly indoors, as another public health hazard that has been largely banned for decades.
“If you go back and look at when smoking policies to smoke indoors were coming through, there were numerous catastrophic opinions: ‘this is going to kill restaurants, this is going to kill society, you don’t have the right to do this,’” he said.
“Now, we’re just used to the fact we don’t see people smoking in restaurants. And that’s how that social norm has changed.”
Lear said that bringing in a consequence will likely push those who haven’t bothered getting the jab into a vaccine clinic.
“Most of the people I would say that are unvaccinated probably fall into some kind of realm of complacency, whether they just don’t feel that they need to get it or some convenience factor where it’s inconvenient to make appointments,” he said, but noted that those with real barriers – people working multiple jobs who can’t take the time off, busy single parents with child care concerns – need to be helped towards a vaccine.
“I think it needs to be done in parallel with more outreach, vaccination opportunities, more pop up clinics.”
The province has provided increasing opportunities to get vaccinated. While some mass immunization sites have shut down, many clinics remain open for walk-ins and other opportunities, such as TransLink’s air-conditioned mobile vaccine bus and a recent pop-up at a BC Lions game, have been utilized.
Overall, vaccine cards appear to have public support. A poll released by Ipsos on Aug. 19 suggested that 72 per cent of Canadians support vaccine passports to enter restaurants, gyms, or other indoor spaces, while a Leger survey released on Aug. 20 found that 85 per cent supported such a system.
Strong business support has also helped, Lear noted, as has tying the vaccine card to reopening the economy and avoiding the financial losses seen by many establishments last fall.
There’s a final piece to what Lear believes will be an overall positive reaction to the vaccine: pandemic fatigue. While it’s a factor that has made it hard for the pandemic-weary public to adapt to seemingly always changing COVID rules, it’s may have increased support for measures that seem like they will end 18 months of hardship.
“I see a lot of similar comments on social media. People are collectively saying ‘we’ve actually we’ve done our part, we stayed at home, we should be able to enjoy these activities without concern for our health.”
And polling backs that pandemic fatigue has caused attitudes to turn cold towards people choosing to not get immunized. An Angus Reid Institute poll released on Aug. 17 found that 83 per cent of vaccinated respondents said they “don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who chose not to get vaccinated and then got COVID-19.”