Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, made the announcement at Queen’s Park Tuesday afternoon and said the decision factors in rising cases and slowing vaccine rates.
“We must take assertive action to protect the health of all Ontarians,” he told reporters, adding he anticipates a “difficult” fall and winter.
“The policies I am announcing today are an important link in the chain of protection that will help keep Ontario strong in the face of the fourth wave.”
Officials announced on Tuesday that employees, contractors, volunteers and students at hospitals as well as home and community care service providers will be covered under the required policies. Paramedic services, post-secondary institutions, retirement homes, women’s shelters, group homes, and licensed home daycares will also be required to enact policies.
Individuals will need to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, a medical reason for not having COVID-19 vaccines, or they will need to complete a COVID-19 vaccine educational session.
For those who do not provide proof of receiving two COVID-19 vaccines, they will be required to participate in “regular” antigen testing. However, it wasn’t immediately clear how often that screening would need to take place.
The rules announced on Tuesday are similar to an order governing COVID-19 requirements at the province’s long-term care homes.
When it comes to education settings, officials said the Ontario Ministry of Education will be bringing forward a vaccination disclosure policy for staff at public and private schools as well as licensed daycares. Antigen testing will also be required.
Some Ontario hospitals like Toronto’s University Health Network previously introduced staff vaccination policies along the same lines as the government’s plans.
The news came amid growing calls from health-care groups and opposition politicians that the government mandate COVID-19 vaccines for workers in high-risk settings like education and health care.
Premier Doug Ford has previously said he won’t make vaccines mandatory in any sector because he considers it a constitutional right not to take the shots.
Ford has personally been fully vaccinated against the virus and regularly encourages Ontario residents to get both doses.
During Moore’s comments, he also confirmed Ontario will remain in Step 3 of its reopening plan, maintaining capacity limits on businesses, gatherings and other settings. The conditions for moving to a so-called Step 4 where nearly all restrictions are removed was predicated on multiple conditions, including that all 34 public health units must report at least 70 per cent of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated — a target that has yet to be met.
As of Tuesday, 81.6 per cent of Ontario residents who are 12 and older have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose while 73.2 per cent of the same age group have received both COVID-19 vaccine doses.
In response to the announcement, Donna Duncan, CEO of the Ontario Long-Term Care Association, reiterated an earlier call for mandatory vaccines for anyone who provides direct care.
“Clear policy across the health care system will ensure the existing health human resources crisis will not be further exacerbated with staff moving to other organizations from organizations that choose to mandate vaccines, or losing them as they get sick from the virus as happened through earlier waves,” she wrote.
“Ontario government action on more stringent vaccine requirements will provide peace of mind to residents, patients, staff and their families across the province.”
Opposition politicians criticized the government as taking “half-measures” rather than fully mandating vaccinations for high-risk frontline jobs.
“No unvaccinated person should be providing health care to our most vulnerable, no unvaccinated person should be in a classroom with our kids,” Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.
“It’s completely unbelievable that the premier and the government don’t see this as a priority.”
Horwath, who previously advocated for a similar vaccine-or-get-tested policy before reversing her position, said there should be “zero tolerance” for dishonesty about vaccination status or COVID-19 symptoms at work.
Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca, who also called Tuesday for mandatory vaccination of all legislators, accused Ford of “pandering to anti-vaxxers.”
“A mandatory vaccination disclosure and mandatory testing simply isn’t the same thing as mandatory vaccination,” he said.
Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, said he and his party will continue to advocate for mandatory vaccines for health-care and education workers along with vaccine certificates.
Third COVID-19 vaccines doses being allowed for vulnerable populations, new doses for those turning 12
The Ontario government announced third COVID-19 vaccines doses will be offered to the highest-risk populations in the province.
There wasn’t a firm date on when those doses would be offered, but as of Tuesday those who received transplants, patients with hematological cancers, people who received an anti-CD20 agent as well as residents in long-term care homes, higher-risk retirement homes and First Nations elder-care lodges would be included.
Duncan in her statement praised the decision to give additional doses to long-term care residents, noting it will help “maintain protection from this deadly virus” during the fourth wave.
Meanwhile, for children turning 12 before the end of 2021, they will now be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines beginning on Wednesday.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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