TORONTO — Ontario now has enough information to make a decision on whether to introduce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy for staff in hospitals, the province's health minister said Monday.
Hospitals, local medical officers of health and other health-care organizations had until Oct. 19 to send their input to the province on mandating vaccines for hospital staff, but last week the government was still waiting for responses from some hospitals.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that now enough have been submitted for the government to proceed.
"I think we’ve received most of them, but we are reviewing all of them in detail," Elliott said. "Once that review is done we'll have more to say."
One factor to consider is whether a vaccine mandate would lead to staff shortages affecting patient care, such as needing to cancel surgeries, she said. Elliot and Premier Doug Ford have both spoken of being concerned about the impacts on northern and rural hospitals, in particular.
Several hospitals that have already implemented their own mandates have seen roughly two per cent of staff placed on unpaid leave or terminated because of the policies.
The Ottawa Hospital placed 186 people on leave Monday, representing less than one per cent of its workforce.
"As a hospital, we have a duty to care for those in need at their most vulnerable time," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
"That is why everyone in the hospital environment is expected to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to mitigate the risk of getting COVID-19 and becoming a source of transmission to others or becoming very ill."
The Chatham-Kent Health Alliance said as of its Sunday vaccination deadline, 26 staff and one physician did not comply, equal to about two per cent of employees.
The Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance said Monday that 14 staff and two physicians were put on leave, equal to about one per cent of its workforce.
Alexandra Marine and General Hospital in Goderich, Ont., said that seven people, none who are clinical staff, will be placed on leave, representing about three per cent of staff.
The Ontario Hospital Association has expressed support for a provincewide mandatory hospital worker policy. Out of 141 hospitals in the province, 120 endorsed the OHA's position, said president and CEO Anthony Dale.
The Ontario Nurses' Association has argued that the current standard allowing unvaccinated workers to be tested is reasonable.
At Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency operating in the Greater Toronto Area, about two to three per cent of staff are estimated to be on leave due to a mandatory vaccination policy in effect Monday.
A spokeswoman said that 89 bus trips - about six per cent of daily trips - were cancelled Monday due to the staffing shortages and some train cancellations were possible.
Ontario reported 422 new COVID-19 cases Monday and three more deaths. Of the new cases, 261 were in people who haven't been fully vaccinated or their vaccination status is unknown.
The province reported that 133 people were in intensive care units due to COVID-19, but not all hospitals submit that data on weekends. There were 25 patients from Saskatchewan in Ontario ICUs.
More than 88 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 84.5 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received both doses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2021.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press