Edmonton

Alberta's proof-of-vaccination program begins today. Here's what you need to know

Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine passport system comes into force today. The policy, which is not mandatory, applies at restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and fitness facilities.

Policy applies at restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and fitness facilities

A printed copy of an individual's Alberta COVID-19 immunization record. The program allows businesses and venues to operate without capacity limits if they require proof of vaccination or a negative test result from anyone entering. (Sarah Rieger/CBC)

Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine passport system comes into force today.

The program allows businesses and venues to operate without capacity limits and other public health measures if they require proof of vaccination or a negative test result from anyone entering.

After months of rejecting the premise of a vaccine passport, Premier Jason Kenney announced the sweeping new measures to combat the COVID-19 surge on Sept. 15, but under a different name: the restrictions exemption program.

The policy, which is not mandatory, applies at restaurants, nightclubs, casinos, concerts and fitness facilities.

When it was announced by Kenney last week, it also applied to retail stores and libraries, but they were removed from the list of eligible businesses over the weekend.

Kenney had previously opposed a vaccine passport over what he said were privacy concerns, but said last week it has become a necessary measure to protect Alberta's hospitals that face the prospect of being overwhelmed in the pandemic's fourth wave.

Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine record became available online Sunday for those looking to print a paper copy.

Albertans will be able to print their COVID-19 vaccination records at local registries across the province that usually handle driver's licences, vehicle registrations and other services, the Alberta government announced on Monday. The free service will be available on Sept. 21.

A digital copy of vaccine records is available on the MyHealthRecords smartphone app; however, Albertans who are currently trying to access MyHealthRecords are being warned of long wait times to access the website and app.

Concerns about forgeries

The launch of the program triggered concerns over how the documents could be forged.

After the site launched, many took to Twitter to complain that the PDF was not locked and that virtually anyone can edit the information on it if they have access to Adobe Reader. 

In a statement, the province said falsifying health records is an offence under the Health Information Act.

"The PDF is now as secure as it can be; however a motivated individual can edit the document to create a new record," reads the statement.

"That said, we know the vast majority of Albertans will use the system properly and adhere to the legal requirements set out in the current public health orders."

A health ministry spokesperson said work continues on a more secure QR code that will be available in the coming weeks.

Edmonton resident Trevor Schmidt is prepared to show his proof of vaccination, but he's disappointed in the current proof of vaccination form, which he says is too easy to forge.

"I'm still going to carry around the papers that I got when I got my vaccination, because I figure they're real," Schmidt said. "I think it's a good thing, I'm just sorry that it seems to be kind of a joke." 

Businesses prepared to implement program

Many businesses adopted the passport program Monday. 

At the Castle Downs Family YMCA in Edmonton, a staff member was tasked with greeting patrons at the door, asking for proof of vaccination.

At YMCA locations in Red Deer, Wood Buffalo and Edmonton the process has been smooth, said Michelle Hynes-Dawson, vice-president of community and digital engagement for the YMCA of Northern Alberta.

"Most people were very understanding and actually quite thankful that the YMCA has gone this route," Hynes-Dawson said. 

"We've had a few that weren't aware or weren't sure how to get their vaccine cards, so we're just supporting and educating members to ensure that they know how to get it."

A YMCA member presents proof of vaccination to a staff member at the Castle Downs Family YMCA on Monday. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

At Winebar Kensington in Calgary a sign on the door of the restaurant states that proof of vaccination is required. 

"If there's any confrontation, we're just going to call the police. I don't want deal with any confrontation," said Cam Dobranski, chef and owner in an interview Monday. 

"If they don't have any ID or the vaccine, they're just not allowed in. If they say they're exempt no proof, we're just not letting them in."

Meanwhile, Edmonton announced Monday that all city staff will be required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15.

Employees who are not fully vaccinated by then will need to get a COVID-19 rapid antigen test twice per week. 

Around 86 percent of City of Edmonton employees responded to a recent vaccination disclosure survey and 72 per cent of those employees confirmed they were fully vaccinated.

"We simply did not feel that 72 percent was enough," said city manager Andre Corbould on Monday.  "We thought it [was] very important for everyone's safety and health that we take this next step to increase the number of our employees that are vaccinated." 

With files from CBC News

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