Should COVID-19 vaccinations be mandatory for all hospital workers? Ontario hasn’t decided yet – Toronto Star

Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott take part in a news conference in Toronto on Oct. 22, 2021.

By Rob FergusonQueen’s Park Bureau

Mon., Oct. 25, 20213 min. read

Article was updated 1 hr ago

The question of mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for hospital workers won’t be settled until next month, despite calls from opposition parties for Premier Doug Ford to stop “dithering.”

In the wake of a request from Ford for hospital executives and others in health care to weigh in on mandatory vaccinations by last Tuesday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government has heard from some rural and northern hospitals fearing such a policy would lead to staff shortages.

“We don’t want to lose a lot of people,” Elliott told reporters Monday, declining to name the hospitals.

“We’re not talking about that many people, but if it’s concentrated in a certain area … it might have some very detrimental effect on the workforce there and their ability to staff emergency, ICU, surgery — all of those areas that still need highly skilled clinicians to operate.”

Elliott initially promised a determination “by the end of the week” but her office later said “a decision on mandatory vaccines for health-care workers will not be coming this week.”

The Ontario Hospital Association, the science table advising Ford and other medical groups have repeatedly called for mandatory vaccinations for hospital and health-care workers to better protect patients, and to prevent unpredictable staff shortages that could be caused by COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Outbreaks are a far greater risk,” New Democratic Party deputy leader Sara Singh said Monday.

A number of hospitals, including University Health Network in Toronto and Windsor Regional Hospital, have already made COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for their workers. Ontario’s chief medical officer has said all health-care workers should consider it their “duty” to be vaccinated.

Elliott said all health-care workers are subject to frequent testing and acknowledged the government is also hearing arguments in favour of mandatory vaccination, but could not put a figure on exactly how many hospital workers remain unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Ford said hospitals are already facing a staff shortage of about 15 per cent.

“I’m not decided,” the health minister replied when asked if she is leaning against mandatory vaccination. “I want to listen to what the experts have to say … this is going to be a science-based decision and based on the facts as we know them.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who recommended the mandatory shots in July, said the government has had plenty of time to put in place contingency plans for staffing.

“This is not something that should have taken this long,” he added “This sort of delaying and dithering dance that the government’s doing, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense.”

Former premier Kathleen Wynne, the Liberal MPP for Don Valley West, also pressed the government on vaccinations for all health-care workers, citing her own niece, who has a disability, and concerns that one of the personal support workers taking care of her is unvaccinated.

“Even though she was being tested every week, she was putting my niece at risk,” Wynne said in the legislature’s daily question period.

“We expect health-care workers to be vaccinated,” Elliott replied, reiterating concerns that health-care workers could quit if they are required to get COVID-19 shots.

The only health-care workers in Ontario who must be fully vaccinated under government policy are those employed in nursing homes, who face a Nov. 15 deadline.

Proponents of mandatory vaccinations for all health-care workers say a blanket policy across the province would make it harder for staff to leave employers that require vaccinations for others that do not.

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