Vaccine passports explained

Editors note: This Q&A on vaccine passports is adapted from a CBC interview with Dr. Seema Marwaha broadcast on multiple CBC radio stations.

What exactly is a vaccine passport?

What is meant by “vaccine passport” isn’t always clear. Essentially, it is official proof of immunization you might be asked to show when taking part in higher-risk activities like attending a large group event or traveling internationally. In some places, it is a physical card you carry (like a passport or Nexus). In some places, it is a digital QR code. Sometimes it’s both.

It is meant to be a consistent, reliable and secure way to provide proof of immunization if asked. Regardless of the form, if implemented, having this official proof of vaccine would afford you some benefits – like skipping quarantine requirements when traveling, for example.

What’s the status of vaccine passports in Canada and the U.S. right now? 

Manitoba has both a physical and digital version of an immunization card. It can be used as proof of immunization for non-medical services like travel, sports/entertainment and restaurants/bars. Its website indicates that in the future, people may be denied access to certain activities without presenting this card. 

Quebec is open to implementing a similar system but wants to wait until all residents have had the opportunity to receive both vaccines. Its health minister has indicated it will be used to limit access to high- and moderate-risk leisure activities – like bars, gyms and contact sports – but only if there are outbreaks or high case rates to control. 

So far, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta have indicated they will not implement any passport system at this time. 

The federal government is working on some type of vaccine passport for international travel but how this would work is not yet certain. 

New York State’s Excelsior Pass allows participating businesses to scan an individual’s digital pass as proof of vaccination. However, numerous U.S. states have actively banned requiring proof of vaccination to access specific services and events. So it’s clear this practice is not without controversy.

What additional activities can fully vaccinated Canadians do now that partially and unvaccinated Canadians can’t?

Right now, the benefit is clearly seen in international travel.

Returning travelers can skip their quarantine, hotel stopover and the day-8 testing requirement if they show proof of having received two doses of one of the vaccines approved in Canada, with the second dose having been administered at least 14 days before they arrived. 

Returning travelers must upload proof of vaccination to the ArriveCAN app at least 72 hours before they travel and show the receipt to Canada border services upon arrival. They are still required to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving at the border and have proof of a negative result. They also must have a quarantine plan in case they do not receive an exemption. 

The European Union has introduced a version of a vaccine passport that seeks to ease movement between countries, exempting those who hold one from quarantine or testing requirements when crossing a border into a participating country.

One issue internationally is that because countries have approved different vaccines, some fully vaccinated individuals may have their travel complicated because they are not considered fully vaccinated depending on the vaccine they received.

From an ethical standpoint, what are some of the concerns around vaccine passports?

Vaccine passports have long been a contentious topic. From a public health standpoint, it makes sense to only allow those who have been fully vaccinated to attend high-risk gatherings like sporting events or travel. It could also be an incentive for people to get their vaccines if they are on the fence.

But the concept of vaccine passports brings a whole host of privacy concerns regarding personal health information as well as questions around the ethics of requiring vaccine confirmation for certain privileges.

There are a lot of calls for COVID vaccines to be mandatory in health-care workers specifically. The case over how far health-care institutions can go to protect patients and others against the coronavirus has been closely watched. More than 150 employees at a Houston hospital system who refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine have been fired or resigned after a judge dismissed an employee lawsuit over the vaccine requirement. Whether a similar instance can happen in Canada is open to debate, according to some employment lawyers. Both the Ontario Medical Association and the Ontario Nurses Association are calling for mandatory COVID vaccines for health care workers. 

I think if we do see multiple waves here in Canada as is happening in other parts of the world, AND we want to continue to remain open, some form of vaccine passport may be an inevitability. While not getting vaccinated is a choice, choices might have consequences.

In your view …. will implementing vaccine passports encourage more people to get their shot? Or would it alienate Canadians who don’t have access?

This approach is likely to affect people differently depending on their vaccine-related views. There are people on the fence or who have no urgency to get the shot but no strong feelings against it. Passports and restrictions might motivate them to get the shot. But for people who are more libertarian or mistrustful of vaccines, this approach might cause them to dig in their heels even more because it is more heavy-handed.

If I have family members or friends who are unvaccinated, how do I convince them to get it?

This is such a tough question. The last 20 per cent will be difficult to reach and the last 5-10 per cent even more difficult.

Not all people who are unvaccinated at this point are “anti-vax” – some still lack access to the vaccine because of language, precarious employment, no health insurance or physical disability just to name a few. We need to put in immense effort to meet them where they are to get them vaccinated.

Some people are hesitant because of their own health or concerns that the surveillance for side effects is ongoing.  Regardless of their reasoning, it’s important to meet them with empathy and listen to their concerns. Debunk any false myths if possible. They may need individual, one-on-one conversations to address their specific concerns. But shaming them or trying to force them to go often amplifies their resistance to getting the jab. 

The comments section is closed.


    How does a server in a restaurant know that my passport on my phone is mine.

  • Tanya says:

    I do not agree that K should have to provide a doctor’s note explaining my health conditions and why I can not get this version of the vaccine in order to sit on a patio with my family and have a meal, when this time last year we were told it was safe for me to do so since tables were 6 feet apart or more. I also feel that no travel to other countries should be allowed by anyone without quarantine and proof of a negative test. Using restrictions to try to have people forced to take something that could be more harmful to them then covid is just wrong.

    I didn’t as questions when the SARS vaccine this one is based on came out and ended up with it triggering ever single dormant dna issue in my body. I went from bare!y missing a day of work to being permanently disabled in less than a year. So I asked questions.

    Can I still catch covid if I get vaccinated? Yes you can. Can I still spread covid if I get vaccinated? Yes Will I still possibly die if I get vaccinated and catch covid? Yes, some people have still died. So, ok then can you guarantee my conditions won’t get worse or the shot won’t kill me since it is basically the SARS vaccine tweaked? Answer I think you should just keep practicing social distancing and wait until a vaccine is made with the dead virus in it.

    So I am told I can’t go anywhere or do anything even if I am careful if I listen to my doctor. This had even extended to renting a cabin in the middle of nowhere. So where we had a right to privacy for our medical conditions the government is now saying give up that right or stay home. Where going to parks and open air places were ok now we say they are not and you can’t question us. I thought we lived in a country where we had rights and could question and make choices for ourselves. Is all of this not how communism started? Slowing give up each right until you have none left?

  • BEN Le Roux says:

    The vaccine can Not be proof of immunization, as no Covid vaccination makes you immune.
    The concept of the passport to reopen society is blackmail.
    I understand that you can protect yourself to some degree by being vaccinated, but the reasoning behind the passport makes no sense.

    • Betty Mcneil says:

      Dear Tanya,I agree with everything you just said,very intelligent thinking,wish there were more people around like yourself,thank you

  • Dave Normand says:

    “proof of immunization”. Does the vaccine make you immune to the virus? I don’t like how this word is being snuck in to the discussion.

  • Ian Coleman. says:

    Not one of the manufacturers of any of the vaccines claims that its vaccine prevents either infection with or transmission of the virus. The U.S. Center for Disease Control does not claim that any of the vaccines prevent infection or transmission. What is claimed is that vaccines minimize the severity of the harms infected people suffer from COVID-19, and this claim has been shown to be true.

    The rationale for the vaccine passports, that unvaccinated people who are infected with the virus spread it and vaccinated people who are infected do not, is false.

    The real, if unspoken, reason for the vaccine passports is to identify people who have declined the vaccines and punish them, in a blunt effort to force people to accept the vaccines. It is plausible that, once the population vaccination rate reaches 90 percent of eligible adults and the pandemic has not been contained, that people who have still declined the vaccines will be prosecuted.

    The hard, grim fact is that no one has ever developed and marketed a safe, effective and durable vaccine against a mutating airborne pathogen. It is unlikely that this has happened now and, even if we vaccinate every living Canadian, including infants, the pandemic will not be contained. We are probably about a year away from having to admit that terrible fact.

  • Jeff scott says:

    This was well written and well thought out. In the interests of debunking and actual truth. Could you do an article about antibiotics? It seems to me that the WHO has cut back on the use of antibiotics because of antibiotic immunities during the exact same time frame as covid. Could it be that covid is just a common cold without the common medicine? I read a bunch of things about their recommendations that now doctors are not supposed to prescribe antibiotics for any cold symptoms unless hospitalization is required.

  • Tanya Lowry says:

    My comment is this. My husband is trying to put more life in his years as we don’t have many. His stem cell transplant for his multiple myeloma dictates he can not be vaccinated in any way for 6 months. He may only have 2.5 years… Thanks to this stupid vaccination passport thing going on he can’t even go out to enjoy a meal with me. This is really disappointing. It’s facist and ought to be stopped.

  • T Martin says:

    My apologies if someone already mention this, but what about those Canadians (like myself) who do not own a cell phone?? Guess we’re just brought out to the trash bin

    • Barry says:

      Q: what about those Canadians (like myself) who do not own a cell phone??

      Alike your situation, or similar to those who don’t want or need a cellphone; the alternative is simply completing the online vacc’s card application. The simple option; seemingly you must have had net access to participate in this debate thus priority, you may consider Immunization Card! It actually only takes a few minutes to apply for immunization card Online! On the plus side; it is about a three week waiting period to arrive. It also doesn’t much of any additional personal information other than Health Card number verification.
      Be Safe, Be Happy, and Be Alive….. Most of all; Protect “Each Other”!

      Just a thought:
      Perhaps if every being truly believed their immunization could possibly save “One” or “Many” More life’s !
      If someone ever reached out and gave effort to save someone’s life; would one consider themselves blessed, and or, including the one’s that may have saved yours?

      • Tanya says:

        Manitoba health can print off an immunization record to show you had your shot. So why would anyone give access to their health information for a card only recognized locally? Call and ask for your record to be sent to you and then you choose who you are going to show it to.

  • Dana says:

    I’m surprised that I can’t find anyone or anything online that talks about the vaccine passport with relation to the efficacy duration of the COVID vaccine. From everything we’ve been told, the vaccine is only effective for about 6 months. If that’s true and if someone, say an essential worker, received their second vaccine in February of 2021, by the end of August their vaccination would no longer be effective. So if a vaccine passport is implemented in late September, those who were vaccinated early will still be able to go into public places. This doesn’t make any sense to me at all. The entire population of any area has been widely spread out in terms of when they received their vaccines so not everyone will be on the same page in terms of vaccine duration. If governments are going to insist on implementing these ridiculous, ill-thought out things, the passport should only be valid until different dates for each individual person.

  • Brenda Marshall says:

    We have been told that the vaccines do not stop the vaccinated from getting Covid or from giving it to others so how can allowing the vaccinated to do things the unvaccinated cannot be justifiable or defendable? The only thing the vaccines are apparently doing is keeping people who have them from getting really sick if they do get Covid. As such, they are protecting the users only.

  • Marco Caceres says:

    If the COVID shots cannot prevent transmission of the virus, then there is no case to be made for vaccine passports. Everyone, vaccinated or not, can spread the virus. No need to distinguish between different segments of our population.

  • Veronica Woods says:

    There are people who have been vaccinated and still end up getting covid. People Can Vote Without A Vaccine Passport, But Needs A Passport To Prove They Have Two Vaccines To Go For Dinner, Movies, Swimming etc, Something Is Wrong With The Canadian System.

  • Rob says:

    Too much double talk out there for me to be pressured into anything entering my body unless I can view all the ingredients in these propritory cocktails. Also it would reasonable to expect the manufacturers would have some ownership for liability but they are exempt which is unheard of….. Clearly we are not in a society that promotes freedom of choice.

    Please watch as an eye opener:

  • Roxanne D. says:

    Emposing vaccine passports will cause a societal division and it has already begun. Am I less of a human being because I choose not to get this specific vaccine? Will you look at me like I’m lower than dirt? I am not an anti-vaxxer but I’m very weary of this constant push of this newly made vaccine. I’m simply gathering information day by day as there is constant ever changing information. The media only glorifies this but very little discussion on the side effects. I’m weary and how can I trust what I hear of next week something changes? Please RESPECT those people who are not vaccinated yet as some of us simply do not trust this just yet. As more information rolls out this will change the unvaccinated minds.

  • Peter Kreppenhofer says:

    Is the main purpose of the vaccine passport not to prevent the unvaccinated from infecting others? Now that CDC director Walensky has announced that the vaccines do not prevent transmission of the virus, please explain how a vaccine passport will make any difference other than sentencing unvaccinated people to second class status.

  • Terri says:

    Thank you for the factual, non-judgmental discussion. Important in these times!

  • Tex Mex says:

    Hi there,

    1. Name one peer reviewed study that states that a particular vaccine is safe and shows the science that is actually works. Please post it here so we can read it. All of it. Oh and it must not be influenced by anyone who receives recompense from anyone (or works for) in the multi trillion dollar industry. Oh yes I had ALL my shots my whole life and THIS event made me look in to it. I shouted at parents who did not vax and called them murders. But this festival of worldwide brain washing yanked me out of my slumber and there is zero chance of going back to sleep.
    2. The debate of passports is beyond stupidly and taking about it is pure propaganda. Prove me wrong with something other than abuse, belittlement and media spread BS. I dare you. Have a crack.
    3. The question is always WHO is behind something which tells you the WHY and HOW.
    4. Lastly show me the proof of the isolate of this particular virus. No government can but I am sure someone of the “internet” can.


Seema Marwaha


Seema Marwaha is a general internal medicine physician, educator, researcher and journalist in Toronto.

Republish this article

Republish this article on your website under the creative commons licence.

Learn more