Making the case for mandatory vaccination of health-care workers

·2 min read

As COVID-19 vaccinations slowly roll out across Canada, some are asking whether they should be mandatory for people working in health care, long-term care and retirement home settings.

Professors of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa recently published an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal advocating for the vaccine to be made mandatory for anyone in those categories.

"We shouldn't just leave it to individual retirement homes to make decisions about whether or not to require that their health-care workers are vaccinated," said Colleen Flood, law professor and research chair of health and law at the University of Ottawa.

We don't think it would be illegal. - Bryan Thomas, University of Ottawa

The authors call on provincial and territorial governments to set clear rules that would apply across all health-care settings.

Law professor and co-author Bryan Thomas said their article aims to start a debate about whether the shots should be mandatory, and to assess the legal arguments that could arise against such a rule.

"I guess the main thrust of the piece is to push back against this idea that mandating vaccination as a condition of work would somehow violate charter rights or be illegal in other ways. We don't think it would be illegal," said Thomas.

Colleen M. Flood
Colleen M. Flood

Concerns about vaccine hesitancy

There are growing concerns among doctors in Ontario that some health-care workers are reluctant to get the shot — some for cultural reasons, others over safety concerns, according to Dr. Sarita Verma, dean, president and CEO of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

"As a family doctor, I would say I'm going to get the vaccine. There's no reason why you shouldn't, and there are no major, terrible ill effects that will cause bad outcomes worse than getting COVID-19," said Verma.

Nevertheless, Ontario's Ministry of Health confirmed there's currently no policy in place compelling health-care or nursing home workers to be vaccinated.

Managers of long-term care home operators Revera, Extendicare and OMNI say so far many staff members have rolled up their sleeves to get the vaccine.

"We are strongly encouraging all home employees to be vaccinated as it becomes available to each home, but the advice we have received is that employees cannot be forced to do so by the employer," said Patrick McCarthy, president of OMNI Health Care, which runs several care homes in and around Ottawa, including Almonte Country Haven.

Currently, governments, unions and health-care providers are launching education campaigns to convince Canadians the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective.