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

Click to play video: 'How Albertans can access their vaccination status through MyHealth Records online portal'
How Albertans can access their vaccination status through MyHealth Records online portal
With more provinces, businesses and events requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination, Albertans are encouraged to sign up to access their data on the MyHealth Records website and app. As Kim Smith explains, it's a multi-step process that takes several days to complete in order to see your health information – Aug 24, 2021

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

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 MyAlberta Digital ID “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

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.

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Edmontonian TJ Sadler recently travelled to Greece, Dubai, Turkey and Italy. He’s received both doses of COVID-19 vaccine and did a lot of research ahead of time to ensure he had the necessary documentation.

“What was going to be accepted? Did we have to have a paper copy? Did it have to be an official Alberta government copy or could it just be our regular vaccination forms that were handwritten?”

“That led to a lot of sleepless nights, wondering if we were even going to get into the country, and if we got into one country, would we be able to get into the next country?”

Sadler registered with MyHealth Records early and noticed a discrepancy with his vaccine records immediately.

“When I went onto the app, the only one that showed up was the one I got done at the Alberta Health Services clinic, the big mass vaccination clinic. The one I got at the pharmacy didn’t show up.

He called Alberta Health Services and asked them to merge the data and correct his record.

Click to play video: 'Albertans travelling to B.C need to provide proof of vaccination at certain events'
Albertans travelling to B.C need to provide proof of vaccination at certain events

While travelling through Europe, Sadler noticed their vaccination proof was different from the other travellers’.

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“It was a pain, constantly pulling out these papers. And the people that we were showing the papers to — at restaurants for example, in Rome — were like: ‘What is this?’

“Everyone else is showing a little card or something. And we’re pulling out papers that anyone could have forged or photocopied.”

“As Albertans, we looked so backwards going into places and they’re like: ‘What do you mean you just have a piece of paper?’ They accepted it, but the optics of it, it made it look like we didn’t know what we were doing,” Sadler said.

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He encourages Albertans to carry both a digital and printed copy of their vaccination records and is pushing Alberta to adopt a federal vaccine passport, which would be more consistent and streamlined.

“It shouldn’t be a political thing, it should just be something to help Albertans.

“If one province is going something completely different than the rest of Canada, it’s definitely going to make it a bit more challenging.”

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. “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.”

The technical issue causing delays accessing the site was fixed, Alberta Health said Wednesday morning. The issue was not caused by increased traffic to the site, the province said.

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.

Click to play video: 'Calgary event industry discusses COVID-19 vaccine requirements'
Calgary event industry discusses COVID-19 vaccine requirements

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.”

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

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.

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“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.”

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.

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.

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“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.

Click to play video: 'Businesses left with questions over vaccine policies'
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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.

In a statement to Global News on Tuesday, an Alberta Health spokesperson said Albertans can use their paper vaccination record alongside valid government ID as proof of vaccination.

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“This record will work both for domestic and international travel purposes,” Lisa Glover said.

“Albertans who no longer have their paper copy record for any reason are encouraged to sign up for MyHealth Record to be able to access their vaccination records either digitally or by printing out a hardcopy.”

However, if someone is unable to access the online portal, they can get a copy by contacting:

“The government of Alberta is working to streamline this process to further enable people who may have limited access to MyHealth Record to receive their vaccination records,” Glover said.

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.

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

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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

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

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.”

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“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

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