On Tuesday, August 17th, the Ford government announced that it is taking action to protect our most vulnerable community members from COVID-19 by requiring employers in certain industries to implement vaccine policies. The Chief Medical Officer of Health has mandated that hospitals and home community care service providers must have a COVID-19 vaccination policy that is similar to the policy requirements already in place for long-term care homes. The policies must apply to employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers, and for ambulance services to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for paramedics. The policy must come into effect no later than September 7, 2021 and will require workers to provide proof of:
- A full vaccination against COVID-19;
- A medical reason for not being vaccinated for COVID-19; or
- A completion of a COVID-19 vaccination educational session.
Policies must include a requirement that if proof of the above is not provided, then the individual will be required to undergo regular antigen testing – at least weekly.
The Ministry of Education also intends to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for all staff in private schools, licensed child care centers and publicly-funded school board employees for the 2021-22 school year. Staff who are not immunized against COVID-19 will also have to undergo mandatory rapid antigen testing.
Vaccination policies will also be implemented in other higher-risk settings such as:
- Post-secondary institutions;
- Licensed retirement homes;
- Women's shelters; and
- Congregate group homes and day programs for adults with developmental disabilities, children's treatment centers and other services for children with special needs, and licensed children's residential settings.
The government's announcement requiring workplaces to implement COVID-19 vaccine policies stops short of mandating vaccinations, to which the government has been vocally opposed. But the alternative of regular and repeated submission to COVID-19 antigen testing is clearly intended to encourage Ontarians to just get the jab if they can. This is a similar approach to what the Lawyers for Employers at CCPartners have been supporting for our clients' COVID-19 workplace policies.
In addition to the newly enacted mandatory vaccination policies, the province will also begin offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those who are at high risk and will be expanding the vaccine eligibility to children born in 2009. This is intended to provide an extra layer of protection against the Delta variant. Those who will be eligible to receive a third dose of the vaccine will be:
- Transplant recipients (including solid organ transplant and hematopoietic stem cell transplants);
- Patients with hematological cancers (examples include lymphoma, myeloma, leukemia) on active treatment (chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy);
- Recipients of an anti-CD20 agent (e.g. rituximab, ocrelizumab, ofatumumab); and
- Residents of high-risk congregate settings including long-term care homes, higher-risk licensed retirement homes and First Nations elder care lodges.
The government also announced that it will be pausing the exit from their Roadmap to Reopen plan. The province moved into the third step of the plan on July 16, 2021 based on the province-wide vaccination rate and improvements in the key public health indicators. Despite the province reaching the milestone of more than 81 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and over having received the first vaccine does, and is on track to reach its target of 75 per cent vaccinated with a second dose later this month, the government chose to pause the exit in order to monitor the data and risk of the Delta variant until it is safe to resume the exit plan.
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