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Ontario won’t force hospital workers to get COVID-19 vaccines because it could lead to staff shortages and further delays to surgeries, instead leaving the decision up to individual medical institutions, says Premier Doug Ford.

The move was met with disbelief by health providers and opposition critics, who said it is “hard for Ontarians to understand” Ontarians won’t

ith NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accusing the province of “emboldens the anti-vaxxers” and Liberal MPP

“Recently, I wrote to hospital and health-care partners from across Ontario with a number of questions about the impacts of a province-wide vaccine mandate for hospital workers, especially in light of the challenges other provinces have faced when pursuing similar policies. We have reviewed the responses we’ve received alongside real-world evidence here in Ontario and across Canada,” Ford said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

“This is a complex issue. But when the impact of the potential departure of tens of thousands of health-care workers is weighed against the small number of outbreaks that are currently active in Ontario’s hospitals, I am not prepared to jeopardize the delivery of care to millions of Ontarians. Having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals.

“We will continue to monitor the situation in our hospitals very closely and take additional action if warranted. At this time, however, the evidence tells us that because of the measures currently in place, including vaccination rates, regular testing and rigorous (infection prevention and control) practices, our hospitals remain safe for patients and staff members who care for them.”

Ford also said that looking at other provinces with vaccine mandates, like British Columbia and Quebec, such a move “can negatively impact the care patients receive.”

B.C., he added, “has had to cancel surgeries and diagnostic tests because of the sudden termination of more than 3,000 health-care workers after implementing a vaccine mandate. Quebec has now abandoned theirs altogether because of the significant risk an abrupt loss of thousands of health-care workers poses to delivering critical services.”

The move was urged by a number of health associations, and leaves any decisions on mandatory vaccines up to hospitals — with a number of them already having decided in favour, including Toronto’s Sick Kids and University Health Network.

Staff in long-term-care homes in Ontario are still required to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15 or face termination.

Prior to the hospital worker announcement, Health Minister Christine Elliott was asked about the issue in the legislature.

“It has been almost three months since Sick Kids, CHEO and Bloor Rehab announced their mandate policy,” said NDP Health Critic France Gélinas. “Their policies are in line with the recommendations from the Ontario Medical Association, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario and the (province’s) science table. By comparison, the government announced this Monday, Nov. 1, that it had received the information it had requested to make a decision on vaccine mandates for health-care workers in Ontario’s hospitals … Is this government ready to take its responsibility to mandate vaccinations or will you continue to lead from behind?”

Elliott noted that “this is something that has been under discussion for a period of time. It’s not a simple situation, as the member will also know. Some hospitals have already made their own decisions with respect to mandatory vaccination; principally, children’s hospitals because of the fact that children aged five to 11 cannot be vaccinated as yet.

“However,” she added, “it is also an issue of health human resources. We know that our health human resources have been through a very difficult time, caring for COVID patients over the last 20 months, and so we need to determine with the responses from the letter that the premier sent out how many people will be left, will not be able to continue to work if we do bring forward a mandatory vaccination policy.”

She also noted that in British Columbia, it’s mandatory policy has led to surgery cancellations “because they don’t have enough health human resources … we need to make sure that should a mandatory vaccine policy be brought in, that we would still have sufficient health human resources to care for all of the people who are in hospital with COVID and for other issues, and to be able to deal with all of the patients who have been waiting for a very long period of time to have hip or knee replacements or cataract surgeries, all of the other things that we need to catch up on.”

Gélinas, however, accused the government of being “more worried about public opinion than patient safety, than putting an end to this pandemic,” and said 142 hospitals with their own plans “brings confusion. It brings conflict. The science table is clear — it said, ‘requiring that hospital workers be vaccinated is an evidence-based policy that protects Ontarians.’ But this government refuses to listen to science, refuses to take its responsibility, refuses to lead this province.”

Those who support mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers say it would make it easier on hospitals and avoid a patchwork of policies across the province, and also make it more difficult for staff to switch employers from those that require vaccines to those that don’t.

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, has said it is the “duty” of health-care workers to get their shots.

Quebec had set a deadline for health-care workers to be vaccinated or face unpaid leave or even dismissal, but has since extended it. On Wednesday afternoon, it announced that vaccines will be required only for new hires, not existing front-line staff.

COVID rates in British Columbia and Quebec are much higher than in Ontario. B.C., with a population of 5.2 million, reported 584 new cases on Wednesday. Quebec, with a population of 8.4 million, had 525.

By comparison, Ontario reported 378 new cases out of a population of 14.8 million.

In British Columbia, about 3,300 health-care workers are on unpaid leave after failing to comply with mandatory immunization, meaning fewer operating rooms have been available. Some non-urgent surgeries — already put off because of the pandemic — have been further delayed.

After its mandatory vaccine policy came into effect on Oct. 22, Toronto’s University Health Network said that 153 staffers were let go. Sick Kids and hospitals in Windsor and Kingston have also lost staff.

Meanwhile, the Toronto District School Board, one of a handful of boards that has mandated vaccines for its staff, says of its 39,845 staff, some 100 permanent and 693 occasional staff have been put on an unpaid leave of absence. However, most of them have not worked at the board, the country’s largest, this year.

Of the 100, 13 are elementary teachers and three are secondary teachers.

The board recently extended its deadline — to mid-December — for staff to comply.

Spokesperson Ryan Bird told the Star the move was “to support service levels to staff, students and our community — including ensuring the appropriate number of staff are in place to address any shortfalls as a result of the implementation of the procedure — and to review medical and creed-based accommodation requests.”

In Ontario, more than 88 per cent of those 12 and up have received a first COVID vaccine dose, and almost 85 per cent are fully vaccinated.

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Kristin Rushowy @krushowy

“It could be very significant”says Health Minister Christine Elliott of the potential health care shortage. She says some hospital CEOS told the government they were concerned about health Human Resources.

Health Minister Elliott says the province doesn’t want to cancel surgeries in Ontario — which is why the province isn’t mandating vaccines for all health care workers.

46m

Move “emboldens the anti-vaxxers” says Andrea Horwath ⁦@AndreaHorwath⁩ on province deciding not to mandate vaccines for hospitals workers #onpoli She says science table was clear that mandate needed #covid

more horwath

Unvaccinated staff should not be allowed in the ICU, in pediatric wards with sick babies, in the homes of vulnerable home care patients, or anywhere at all in health care, or in our children’s schools. Doug Ford is catering to anti-vaxxers at the risk of our vulnerable loved ones.

The Science Table was clear. The risk of COVID-19 outbreaks causing staff shortages is far worse than the planned shortages caused by removing the few remaining unvaccinated workers. There is also a threat of health care workers leaving their jobs if they feel like their workplace is unsafe, because they’re working, eating and spending the day side-by-side with unvaccinated workers.

I’m grateful to the vast majority of health workers who have already rolled up their sleeves to get their shots, protecting themselves and their patients, as well as to the Science Table and the Ontario Hospital Association for their recommendations in support of mandatory vaccinations for health care workers.”

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“Doug Ford has chosen anti-vaxxers over cancer patients. He’s putting our most vulnerable patients in harm’s way because he’s scared that the Conservative anti-vax community won’t support his re-election otherwise. He should be ashamed.”

del duca

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Would be “significant job losses” if implemented mandatory vaccine policy for hospital workers says Health Minister Christine Elliott. She also notes that people waiting for thousands of surgeries and diagnostic procedures and want to keep those going #onpoli #covid19

Very rigorous testing in place for unvaccinated hospital workers says ⁦@celliottability#onpoli

fraser

Hard for Ontarians to understand government’s decision not to mandate vaccines for hospital workers. It’s wrong what they are doing, says ⁦@JohnFraserOS#covid19 #onpoli

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file from fergie

Chief medical officer Dr. Kieran Moore would not comment when asked if vaccinations should be mandatory for hospital workers, but encouraged all health care workers to get COVID-19 shots.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, please, I think it’s your professional duty to do so,” he told a news conference.

“You can carry this virus without having symptoms into your workplace. It’s that two to three days before your symptoms start…you are actually shedding a large amount of virus. It puts your patients who are immune-suppressed potentially at risk.”

Rob Ferguson

Toronto Star

Queen's Park Bureau

416-325-9892

cell 416-998-0791

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schreiner

Today’s announcement is a slap in the face to patients and their families who deserve to be safe, as well as to the vast majority of healthcare workers who have called for mandatory vaccines.

Instead of doing the right thing and mandating vaccines for healthcare workers, Ford is endangering high-risk patients and increasing the risk of healthcare worker absenteeism due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

If Doug Ford cared about hospital staffing levels, he’d improve working conditions and pay starting with a repeal of Bill 124.

I wrote to the Premier weeks ago with a number of concrete solutions to increase retention and recruitment of nurses. But he failed to take the actions needed.

It’s a weak excuse from a government that has consistently delayed to do the right thing throughout the pandemic.

If we want to put the pandemic behind us, we need the government to put public health first and protect the most high-risk Ontarians. And I’m afraid that today’s announcement is a step backwards in our fight against COVID.“

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Dr. Peter Juni — three obvsiou for mandates, hgostpials are one of those the other two are long term care and retirement homes. whuy, because the patietns or clients are highly vulernable and would benfit from optimum protection. obivosul right now we are in a relatively sweet spot still ,even case numbers are

.. the world won’t come to an emd becuase of us not having mandates, but of course it’s a bit of a missed opportunity and personally my attituted in these situations is this is a work in progress.

vaccine certif for a long time ,and now we have them. basically the same story here. it would have helped if we had strengthened the backs of those hostpials that actually are mandating vaccines and are doing the abosltyel right thing, embrazing the science and making sure that we can keep the setting as safe as posible and i would hope that there it’s always decivin amking that takes ... weigh disadvantge of losing health care workers .. .also somethign that can be reconsidered in a few weeks from now, i wouldn’t see this as a defi decision right now, let’s see where it is going ...

logic to it?the average age in a shotipal is still lower of the opatient than in long term care and retirment home, but is comparable. from my persp, it’s really the three strong cases for ... because the patietns or clients or students exposed are much less vulnerable. from my persp, it’s comparable the three settings.

mixed message? overhwleming majiroty donig the right thing here. so nb to notice and also really grateful for at the sicence table.

push more vaccines, efficient rollout for kids now. and also booster dose strategy. focus on that and keep discussing the issue. i belive that there’s room for change in the future.

staff shortages? i ack that there amy be variatino depending ont he setting you are in ... the challs may be more prounoched in certain settings outside of the gta, esp if more rurual. is a sufficeintly strong arguemtn against mandate, not from my perspective.

frmopquebes, need to gie people notice. comprosmie on the timeline, but basically nudge people into the right driection to really ensure that these settings aer as safe as they can possibly be. never a black and white situation, help keep hostpials safe, to enc staff to protect themseles and others and i think that’s what we’ll also eventually see in BC and qubec, but it’s just that you can’t do that overnight . what can learn from quebec.

challegned if deadling comeing too fast.

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Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
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