A group of major Canadian long-term care operators will require all staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 this fall, with those who don't take the shots being asked to go on unpaid leave.
Chartwell Retirement Residences, Extendicare, Responsive Group Inc., Revera Inc., and Sienna Senior Living announced the plan in a joint statement on Thursday.
They said the stronger policy is necessary as a fourth wave of infections driven by more contagious variants of the virus is spreading in the country.
"Front-line staff at each organization have demonstrated an enthusiastic response to our voluntary vaccination programs," the group said in a statement. "We thank them for their commitment, but we need to do more."
Employees who aren’t fully vaccinated as of Oct. 12 will be placed on unpaid leave of absence.
Vaccination will also be required for new hires, students and other personnel working with the companies.
The group said it doesn't expect the new policy to impact staffing levels, noting that the companies now offer staff access to education about vaccination, help with booking appointments and paid time off to get vaccinated.
It said those policies have resulted in "already high staff vaccination rates that continue to rise each week."
Thousands of long-term care residents have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began as homes across the country dealt with major outbreaks.
The coalition of home operators said unvaccinated staff are more likely to bring the virus to work as infection rates increase again.
Their statement said the vaccination policy will help reduce the need for isolation and other restrictions on residents in the event of outbreaks.
In Ontario, where more than a third of people who have died from COVID-19 were long-term care residents, the province has set minimum standards for vaccination policies in seniors' homes.
Staff must show proof of full vaccination or a medical exemption, and those not vaccinated must take an educational program about COVID-19 vaccination.
The Ontario Long-Term Care Association has asked the province to strengthen those rules by mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all direct care providers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press