The Government of Ontario is making some changes in regards to vaccinations, and not just about who can get a vaccine, but who must now get a vaccine. Although still apparently shirking vaccine mandates for the whole province, the government now wants employees in high risk settings to be vaccinated, but it seems that Ontario’s schools do not count as “high-risk” where rapid testing and contact tracing will remain the first line of defense.
“Keeping a low rate of infection in our communities and protecting our most vulnerable is how we can keep our schools, our businesses and our social settings as safe as possible while minimizing disruption,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore in a statement on Tuesday. Although both the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education are both quoted in the media release, they were not on-hand for the announcement, and neither was Premier Doug Ford.
On his own, Dr. Moore announced that hospitals, ambulance services, and home and community care service providers will need to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for all employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers by September 7. Employees at these facilities will either have to provide proof of full vaccination, a medical reason for not getting vaccinated, or complete a COVID-19 vaccine education session. Anyone that doesn’t provide proof of vaccination will have to regularly take an antigen test to prove they’re COVID free.
Moore is also recommending vaccination policies for other high-risk settings like post-secondary schools, retirement homes, women’s shelters, congregate group homes, and day programs for special needs children and adults with developmental disabilities.
But what about the province’s schools? The Ministry of Education is working on a vaccination disclosure policy for Ontario’s public and private schools, plus daycares, and any staff members not immunized will be required to take regular antigen tests. “As the return to school approaches, vaccination policies in our education sector will be crucial as we look to minimize the impact that COVID-19 could have on our children, youth and young adults,” said Moore.
It was also reported that the Government of Ontario is working with school boards and public health units to run vaccination clinics near schools to make the shots more accessible and convenient for eligible young people. In another announcement today, Moore said that more young people will now be able to get a vaccine because anyone born in 2009 is now eligible to get their Pfizer shots regardless of when their birthday are.
At the same time, any Ontarian who is a transplant recipient, has a hematological cancer for which they’re getting active treatments, has received an anti-CD20 agent, or lives in a high-risk congregate setting, can now get a third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“To provide the best protection to each individual while learning to live with the virus, we are taking action by requiring individuals who work in higher-risk settings to be fully vaccinated, by providing a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to certain groups who have a decreased immune response and by expanding the eligibility to the children born in 2009 or earlier,” Moore explained
Opposition Says Direction Falls Short
Obviously, there was a very strong reaction to the new measures announced today from the opposition leaders. Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath said that the government was failing to put kids first, and that no unvaccinated person should be in an Ontario classroom or health care setting.
“What we’re seeing from Doug Ford today is a risky half-measure. A test just once per week is not the same as a mandatory vaccine. It means that Ford is not requiring anyone – from long-term care to child care – to get a vaccine,” Horwath said in a statement. “On top of that, Ford is still refusing to implement a vaccine certificate program, which is absolutely critical to protect people’s health, protect our progress, and keep non-essential businesses safely running.”
“The millions of us who got our vaccine, and the children and vulnerable people who can’t get a shot right now — we deserve better,” Horwath added.
Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner also used the term “half-measures” in his statement saying that these directions from the Premier could result in more lockdowns, closed schools, and hospital overruns in new COVID cases.
“We need mandatory vaccines for both healthcare and education workers to protect patients and students. What was announced today is a cop out,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner repeated his calls to initiate a vaccine certificate program, called for mandatory vaccines for education and healthcare workers, and asked for a strategy to get those “last-mile” cases who still haven’t received a vaccine shot. He also called out the Premier for his recent absence from the Queen’s Park media room.
“Doug Ford refuses to take the necessary steps to battle the virus. And once again, he refuses to step up to the mic and answer the tough questions,” Schreiner said. “He’s missing when Ontarians deserve answers to why more is not being done to avoid the worst of the escalating fourth wave.”
Perhaps the harshest critic of the three opposition parties was Liberal leader Stephen Del Duca, who said in a statement that Ford was “pandering” to the vaccine hesitant, and playing political games by avoiding vaccine mandates.
“A mandatory vaccination disclosure and mandatory testing simply isn’t the same thing as mandatory vaccination, and his anti-science policy is going to put our most vulnerable kids at risk,” Del Duca said. “As the father of two daughters – one who’s too young to be vaccinated – I will not stand by and watch Doug Ford send our children back to unsafe schools just to appease his anti-vaxxer supporters.”
Del Duca also roped in Horwath by calling her out again for a Power & Politics appearance earlier this month when she said that refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccine was within every Canadians Charter rights, which she quickly took back the next day after much criticism.
“Anti-science half-measures and flip flopping from Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath have done nothing to help boost vaccination rates on the frontlines,” said Del Duca. “Only a strong policy mandating vaccinations will make our classrooms safe in September, so that we can keep Ontario’s schools and economy open.”