Ford government's vaccine policy questioned by Ottawa doctor, educator and parent
'If you don't want a vaccine, it's not going to actually be required of you,' says family doctor of policy
Some Ottawans are questioning whether Ontario's new rules requiring COVID-19 vaccination go far enough and were announced early enough to make a difference.
The Ontario government says it will require vaccines in high-risk settings by Sept. 7 — but there's an opt out option. Those who choose not to be vaccinated will instead face regular testing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The decision, announced Tuesday, focused on encouraging educators and healthcare workers to be vaccinated and comes as the government prepares for a fourth wave caused by the highly infectious delta variant.
The new policy falls short of the robust mandatory vaccine plan that many health experts, like Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth had been expecting.
"We're mandating vaccines, but if you don't want a vaccine, it's not going to actually be required of you in order to go to your job,"said Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa.
Opt-out option exists
While Premier Doug Ford's government said it's making vaccination mandatory, if people in those high-risk settings, whether it's teachers, nurses or long-term care workers don't want to be vaccinated, they can opt for testing instead.
They'll have to undergo regular antigen testing and complete a "COVID-19 vaccination educational session" according to a press release.
For Kaplan-Myrth, encouraging a vaccine is not actually a mandate and equating the two "is a false notion". She said the provincial government had the opportunity to follow the federal government's lead, but instead chose what she says is a half-baked mandate.
"It's coming from a place of hope and wishing, but it's not a piece of planning that is going to be effective," said Kaplan-Myrth.
'This announcement did nothing for me as a parent'
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said case numbers will likely rise as people go indoors again.
And Kaplan-Myrth says allowing unvaccinated people around students and in hospitals could cause a further swell of cases this fall.
"If we look at what's happening in the United States, we look at what's happening overseas, we know the variant is making more and more children sick," she said.
The fear of her children falling ill is something that concerns Navneet Bhandari. The mother of two is preparing to send her six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to school.
While she appreciated the strong vaccine encouragement from Moore and others, Bhandari says the timing of the announcement could result in education workers not having enough time to get two doses.
"It's good what they're doing," Bhandari said. "But I find it bizarre how this is just being announced...when school is set to open in a couple of weeks."
Ultimately, Bhandari said the increased testing on unvaccinated people is a step in the right direction, but sending her kids, who are unable to get vaccines due to their age, to school with unvaccinated people is nerve wracking.
"This announcement did nothing for me as a parent...I have anxiety for both of them...I'm very concerned."
When teacher Danielle Takoff returns to see her Grade 7 students this fall, she knows a fair number will likely be vaccinated or eligible to get the shot. But Takoff says the responsibility to get vaccinated and protect students falls heavily on teachers.
"If teachers can't understand the science and make that risk assessment...then maybe they're not in the right profession," said Takoff.
The French immersion teacher says students need to get back to normal life and vaccines will be a big part of that.
"Students need this, the children need to be healthy," Takoff said.