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Manitobans who have received COVID-19 vaccines can now prove it after the province launched an online portal for the immunization records.
A record of vaccination, which includes the person’s name, personal health information number, birthday, vaccine brand, and date of immunization, is now accessible through the same website where the province publishes COVID-19 test results.
"This is another proactive measure to ensure people have access to their own health information," Health Minister Heather Stefanson said in a press release Thursday. "We know many Manitobans have asked for their COVID-19 vaccination information from our public health offices."
The new tool comes nine weeks after the province launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Dec. 16.
Manitobans must have a valid Manitoba Health card and a personal email address to use the website.
Previously, people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine were asked to contact the public health office in their region to request a record of immunization. The province doesn’t provide COVID-19 vaccination records at clinics or update existing immunization cards when an injection is given.
On Thursday, a provincial spokesman said public health offices were being "inundated" with requests for COVID-19 immunization records.
"To me it’s disappointing that the province has vaccinated tens of thousands of people but still hasn’t figured out how to give them proof of vaccination," Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Thursday. "This seems like this is going to be something that causes a lot of problems down the road."
Kinew said plans should have been in place to offer vaccine records in advance of the COVID-19 immunization campaign.
At the same time, the possibility that people may be asked to show proof of immunization in order to receive services remains a major concern, he said.
"We don’t want to create have and have-nots in our system," Kinew said. "And it may be just as simple as even somebody who did get vaccination but because of their living circumstance maybe isn’t able to provide that vaccination record upon command.
"The solution here would be to set up a regulatory framework that actually says that it’s inappropriate for an employer to be asking for this record, as one example," he said. "So we need to see those rules in place to prevent some of the negative things from happening."
Cara Zwibel, a lawyer and director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said there is no precedent for requiring specific immunizations to access services, venues or employment within Canada.
Should that happen with the COVID-19 vaccine, Zwibel said there is cause for concern, especially as doses remain scarce in Canada.
Vaccine products currently available in Canada have not been approved for children under age 16, and are still being studied in pregnant and breastfeeding women, she noted. Meanwhile, some people, including those with precarious immigration status and temporary workers, may not have equitable access to vaccines.
"If we start doing that, I think there’s this idea that we start to designate people as safe and dangerous, it is just a recipe for inequality and discrimination," Zwibel said.
Stefanson said employers and other parties should not ask for proof of immunization "for any purpose."
Meanwhile, provincial public health officials reiterated that while the government encourages people to get immunized against COVID-19, it is not mandatory.
A spokesperson for Shared Health said COVID-19 immunization is not a condition for employment or a requirement contained in any collective agreements. The same guidance also applies to the annual flu vaccine as well as regional health authorities in Manitoba.
However, new employees are required to confirm they are immunized against some communicable diseases, including rubella, measles, Hepatitis B and chickenpox, if they are working in a clinic or health-care practice.
Come spring, Stefanson said a permanent and "secure" COVID-19 immunization card will be available to Manitobans. No further details about the card were provided Thursday.
The province added the information currently provided online is not a vaccine passport or an official government document.
According to the province, immunization records can be accessed as early as 48 hours after doses are administered but it could take as long as a week for updated information to be posted. Those without internet access or a health card should continue to call their public health office.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.