Ontario announced it would be mandating all long-term care workers in the province must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Staff, support workers, students, and volunteers will have until November 15, to show proof that they have received all required doses of a COVID-19 vaccine or to show proof of a valid medical exemption.
Staff who do not have all required doses or a valid medical exemption by the deadline will not be able to enter a long-term care home to work.
“We know that long-term care residents have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. As new variants continue to spread, we are seeing a growing number of outbreaks in long-term care homes where the risk to those most vulnerable remains high,” said Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips.
Phillips defended that regulation in late August despite calls to make vaccination mandatory, including from the Ontario Long-Term Care Association.
Asked why the government is changing its approach now, Phillips said the province had reviewed home-by-home data that showed variations in vaccination rates. At one home, he said, under 40 percent of workers had been vaccinated.
As of August 31, 2021, about 44 percent of long-term care homes had staff vaccination rates below 90 percent.
“We want to protect all long-term care residents and all staff regardless of which home they live or work in, and the evidence shows in long-term care settings, these rates are not acceptable,” said Phillips.
The province had previously required all staff to either be vaccinated or undergo regular testing and take educational courses on the benefits of getting the vaccine.
The mandatory vaccination policy doesn’t extend to visitors, although they still have to show negative tests. Phillips said that might, however, change in the future.
LTC facilities will also begin to randomly test fully vaccinated people, including patients and employees, to help put a lid on any breakthrough infections. Testing will also continue for people who are not vaccinated, with the Ministry of Long-Term Care holding the right to send testing teams into homes to validate results.
As of October 1, there are 19 long-term care homes in Ontario with active COVID-19 outbreaks.
“If you’re one of the staff, who has not yet gotten vaccinated, I ask you to please go and book your first shot,” Phillips urged. “Please make a choice to protect yourself, your co-workers and the residents that depend on you every day.”
Phillips said he’s concerned about how mandatory vaccines will affect staffing, which has already been an issue during the pandemic, but vowed the government would keep an eye on the situation.
“We will make sure homes have enough staffing,” he said.
Fully vaccinated staff will continue to be able to work in more than one long-term care home, retirement home or other health service provider setting.
Third doses are now being offered to long-term care home residents to boost the primary series of COVID-19 vaccinations. As of September 30, 64 percent of residents have received a third dose.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News