Local health and education officials are welcoming a new COVID-19 vaccination policy issued by the Ontario government, however some say they believe the policy should also have included a vaccine mandate instead of the disclosure and mandatory testing.
The directive, which was released Tuesday, says employers in health and education will need to have policies requiring staff to disclose their immunization status, with proof of complete immunization or a documented medical exemption.
Those who are not vaccinated will need to take an educational session and be subject to regular testing, said Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s medical director of health.
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The provincial directive will take effect on September 7 and will cover hospitals, ambulance services, and community and home-care service providers. It will be similar to one that already exists in long-term care homes and reflects staffing policies introduced by some hospitals, including the London Health Sciences Center (LHSC).
It comes as the province sees a notable spread of COVID-19 in high-risk settings like long-term care homes and hospitals.
The Ministry of Education is finalizing a similar directive for employees of all publicly funded school boards and licensed child care centers.
There are also plans for policies in other high-risk settings, such as post-secondary institutions, nursing homes, congregate group homes, women’s shelters and more, depending on the province.
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“This is good news,” LHSC Acting Medical Director Dr. Adam Dukelow said of the provincial announcement.
“It is an important step as we work within hospitals, but in the health care sector and in the education sector, to fight the pending fourth wave of COVID.”
LHSC has already implemented policies that require certification and education for those who are not vaccinated, “so we are a little further along at that stage of the process,” he said.
However, he points out that the provincial directive also requires testing for those who have not been immunized.
“We have some work to do on the details related to that,” including the type of test that will be used and where it will be done, he said.
Right now, about 80 to 90 percent of LHSC staff are vaccinated, Dukelow said, adding that a more accurate picture is expected over the next several weeks as certification is completed.
For its part, the Ontario Hospital Association said it was “pleased” that the government established the basic requirements for vaccination policies.
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However, in issuing its directive, the province fell short of requiring vaccinations for workers in high-risk settings, something that health worker groups and other advocates have been calling for.
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In a joint statement on Wednesday, the heads of the province’s unions representing primary, secondary, Catholic and French teachers said the province’s plan was “far below what was needed” and that there were very few details.
Unions reiterated their support for mandatory vaccinations in schools, with accommodations for those with medical or religious exemptions, and said that “everyone who works or attends school is eligible” to receive the vaccine and can do so safely. , they should.
“A mandatory vaccination program with proper provincial direction would provide greater protection against the spread of COVID-19 in school communities and protect students, especially those under 12 years of age, as well as others who cannot or cannot vaccinate. they have access, ”the statement said.
The unions also called on the province to ensure other pandemic measures are put in place, including better ventilation, robust testing and tracking, smaller class sizes, and masking for staff and students.
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“The vast majority of the students we teach are not vaccinated at this time because there is no vaccination plan for children 11 and under, and the majority of elementary students are under the age of 12,” said Craig Smith. , President of the Thames Valley Local of the Ontario Federation of Elementary Teachers.
Children born in 2009 became eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday.
“We have a situation where 90 percent of teachers and other educators are vaccinated, but 90 percent of our students we teach are not. That’s really the trick here, how can we build a wall around those people to keep them safe? It’s one thing to open schools. What we want to do is keep the schools open. We also want the children and staff to stay in school. “
In a statement, the director of the Ontario Registered Nurses Association said the policy would help increase vaccination rates eventually, but said it came too close to the school year to be fully effective.
Meanwhile, the New Opposition Democrats criticized the Ford administration for taking “half measures” rather than implementing a vaccine mandate for high-risk front-line jobs.
“No unvaccinated person should provide medical care to the most vulnerable, no unvaccinated person should be in a classroom with our children,” said Andrea Horwath, NDP leader. “It is completely incredible that the prime minister and the government do not see this as a priority.”
The Ontario Long-Term Care Association has also ordered mandatory vaccinations for all direct care providers.
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The province’s directive is a “minimum standard” and employers can enact their own stricter policies if they see fit, the government says.
“Venues can, and possibly should, if they wish, do more to get closer to what could actually be a true mandatory vaccination in a workplace or healthcare setting,” said Officer Dr. Alex Summers. London-Middlesex Region Health Associate Physician.
“We are certainly seeing a collective exploration of how far things can go to make sure these places where we gather are safe,” he added. “I think there will be an increase in comfort that, especially with the Delta strain, the only way we can guarantee safe in-person meetings, particularly indoors, is if everyone is vaccinated.”
Most of the recent cases in London-Middlesex and Ontario are among the unvaccinated.
Data from the Middlesex-London Health Unit shows that 86.7 percent of cases and 92.8 percent of hospitalizations during the past six weeks have involved people who were not vaccinated or who were partially vaccinated. .
“Most people who may not be getting vaccinated right now may or may not change their minds at one of those educational sessions,” Summers said.
“It really comes down to, you know, even beyond those educational sessions, how do we make sure that it’s really necessary for people to come and do certain things?”
–With files from The Canadian Press and Matthew Trevithick and Andrew Graham of Global News
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