Ontario’s vaccine passports aren’t new. Remember your bright yellow shot booklet?


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D’Arcy Palmer has kept his piercing yellow Ontario immunization booklet by his side for 29 years now. 

It’s travelled the world with him, starting in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and tracking shots he’s received in British Columbia, Manitoba, Korea and Japan, where he now lives. He considers it his own vaccine passport.

Though going on three decades, it’s in surprisingly good shape.

“It says, ‘This is your personal immunization record. Do not lose this card. Record all immunizations on this card.’ And I’ve kept to that,” he said, proudly waving the booklet.

As Ontario prepares to roll out its own COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination system later this month, people like Palmer are feeling nostalgic for those little yellow booklets.

The province has long used them to track vaccinations for things like tetanus, hepatitis B and polio. The booklet acts as proof of vaccination, particularly for children, who must typically get certain shots, like mumps, measles and rubella, before going to school.

Ontario Morning from CBC Radio3:49Vaccine passports aren’t new. Ontario has its sunny yellow shot booklets

As Ontario rolls out its own vaccine passport system, there’s been nostalgia for those little yellow booklets, long used to track and prove vaccination status in the province. Haydn Watters has more. 3:49

Yellow booklet holds a ‘special place’

Perhaps yours is tucked away in a junk drawer, but Palmer still keeps his booklet updated religiously.

“I originally dug it out this summer, in case I needed to have the COVID vaccination record on it,” he said. “But then I realized that they were doing a separate thing.”

AJ Wray, a doctoral student at Western University in London, Ont., keeps his in a safe, alongside his passport and birth certificate. “It has a special place in the document levels of importance,” he said.

WATCH | Ontario announces its proof-of-vaccination plan:

Ontario announces proof-of-vaccination plan for indoor dining, gyms

Starting Sept. 22, Ontario will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor dining, gyms and theatres, among other places after increased pressure on the government. A QR code will be launched in October. 2:47

Wray’s booklet is starting to fall apart. There’s wear and tear on the corners and a few holes are starting to show. He figures it’s from years of being kept in his mom’s purse. Some colour remains.

“That yellow — I have never seen it anywhere else on any other document. It is just so bright and saturated,” he said. “Mine, with age, actually has gotten more orange than anything.”

Wray teaches undergrad students at Western. When he mentions the yellow booklets, many students don’t know what he’s talking about. But the province’s ministry of health said it still makes the booklets.

AJ Wray stores his yellow shot booklet in a safe, along with his birth certificate and passport. ‘It’s falling apart.’ (Submitted by AJ Wray)

CBC News reached out to more than two dozen Ontario health units, and most said they hand out the yellow records or give them to family doctors and hospitals to distribute. 

Marianne Rock figures her health unit, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District (HKPR), hands out around 500 booklets every six months.

“We’re trying to move more to an electronic realm, but I still think that there is still an appetite for them,” said Rock, who is a manager in HKPR’s health-protection division. “I still use it for my daughter’s immunizations.”

The province has an online platform, where shots recorded in the yellow booklet can be added, called Immunization Connect Ontario. Rock says her health unit is trying to push people to self-report shots there, but it’s been tricky.

“Not everyone has access to a computer or a laptop or a phone.… For those people, it’s important that they have that yellow card.”

How Ontario’s vaccine passport plan will work:

  • As of Sept. 22, you’ll need proof of vaccination and photo ID to get into high risk, non-essential places like bars, restaurants, gyms, sporting events and festivals.
  • This can be a printed version of the PDF available online, or you can show that PDF from your phone.
  • On Oct. 22, the province will roll out an app, which can scan personalized QR codes of vaccine certificates.
  • Read more about how it works.

Booklet can’t be used as proof of COVID-19 shot

Rock said she isn’t sure if the yellow immunization booklet will ever “die.” Out of routine, she still brings hers when she gets regular vaccinations. She’s even seen people bring their booklets when they’ve come for their COVID-19 vaccines.

The province told CBC it won’t accept a yellow card entry as proof of a COVID-19 shot when the vaccine passport program starts Sept. 22. Record of the COVID-19 vaccine is instead stored online.

“They’re completely separate things,” explained Rock.

The province has long used its yellow immunization record to track inoculations. The booklet acts as proof of vaccination, particularly for children, who typically must get certain shots before going to school. (Haydn Watters/CBC)

Though Wray has clutched onto his shot booklet for all these years, he’s ready to let it go for a digital one.

“You think about the invention of online boarding passes … I just save it to my [phone] wallet and it’s good to go,” he said. “If it’s good enough for airport security, it should be good enough for vaccine security.”

Read more at CBC.ca