On Wednesday, the Government of Ontario announced that they are expanding the eligibility of third doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Starting on November 6, booster shots will be made available to additional groups of high-risk individuals, and that boosters will then be gradually rolled out for all age groups 12 and over. Good news, but it wasn’t the vaccine news that everyone was talking about on Wednesday afternoon.
The quote came from Doug Ford, and the subject was mandatory vaccinations for people working in hospitals and healthcare facilities.
“The impact of the potential departure of tens of thousands of health care workers is weighed against the small number of outbreaks that are currently active in Ontario’s hospitals,” Ford said in a news release. “Having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals.”
Of course, many hospitals around Ontario, including Guelph General Hospital, have initiated vaccine mandates of there own. In October, Guelph Hospital announced that 31 people, or 2 per cent of the approximately 1,530 members of the hospital’s staff, were put on unpaid leave because they had not been vaccinated. They have until November 9 to get their shots before their temporary leave becomes permanent.
The leaders of Ontario’s opposition parties were not impressed by the Premier’s announcement, or his risk assessment.
“The Science Table was clear. The risk of COVID-19 outbreaks causing staff shortages is far worse than the planned shortages caused by removing the few remaining unvaccinated workers,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath in a statement. “There is also a threat of health care workers leaving their jobs if they feel like their workplace is unsafe, because they’re working, eating and spending the day side-by-side with unvaccinated workers.”
“Doug Ford has chosen anti-vaxxers over cancer patients. He’s putting our most vulnerable patients in harm’s way because he’s scared that the Conservative anti-vax community won’t support his re-election otherwise. He should be ashamed,” added Liberal leader Steven Del Duca.
“If Doug Ford cared about hospital staffing levels, he’d improve working conditions and pay starting with a repeal of Bill 124,” said Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. “I wrote to the Premier weeks ago with a number of concrete solutions to increase retention and recruitment of nurses. But he failed to take the actions needed. It’s a weak excuse from a government that has consistently delayed to do the right thing throughout the pandemic.”
As for the booster shots, they will now be made available to individuals aged 70 (born in 1951) and over; health care workers and designated essential caregivers in congregate settings (including long-term care home and retirement home staff and designated caregivers); individuals who received a complete series of a viral vector vaccine (two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine or one dose of the Janssen vaccine); and First Nation, Inuit and Métis adults and their non-Indigenous household members.
You can get a booster if you fall into one of those categories, and if it’s been at least six months since the last time you got dose of a vaccine. You can book a shot through the Province’s vaccination portal, your family doctor, select pharmacies, and the local public health unit. In fact, if you’re over 70 years old and you live in Wellington, Dufferin and Guelph, expect to get a phone call soon from public health about a booster.
“This is excellent news,” said Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer in a statement. “Individuals with two valid doses will still be considered fully vaccinated, but a booster dose can help protect the most vulnerable members of our region and our essential health care workers. As Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph returns to normal the continued use of data-driven, targeted interventions will help us balance reopening the region with the protection of all residents.”
The next phase will be the rollout of vaccines for children under 12 years old. On Tuesday, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children between the ages of 5 and 11, and while Health Canada hasn’t set a firm date for when children can start getting shots, they said in a tweet Wednesday that a decision will come in a matter of weeks. Schreiner said that the government needs to act now to get it right when the time comes.
“Kids are at increased risk in schools, and are exposed to unvaccinated education workers because Doug Ford refuses to make them mandatory,” Schreiner said. “As of today, almost 500 schools have COVID-19 cases, and 4 are currently closed due to outbreaks. It’s vital that we get the vaccine plan for kids right and avoid the ‘Hunger Games’ approach we experienced this spring. Protecting kids and ensuring classrooms can be safer and schools can stay open is essential for children’s health, well-being and positive learning outcomes.”