OMA calls for COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all Ontario health-care workers

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says that all health-care workers in the province should be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Premier Ford has said he is 'not in favour' of mandatory vaccinations

A woman is vaccinated with a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up vaccine clinic in Toronto's Jane and Finch neighbourhood. The Ontario Medical Association said Friday that all health-care workers in the province should be required to get vaccinated. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says all health-care workers in the province should be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

In a news release issued Friday, the association said mandatory vaccinations in the field are necessary to protect workers, patients and the broader community.

"Vaccines are the best way to control the spread of COVID-19, and remain an essential component in protecting our patients, families and friends," said OMA president Dr. Adam Kassam, in a statement.

"As a front-line doctor who is fully vaccinated, I am proud to stand with my physician colleagues who continue to advocate for full vaccination of all those eligible."

In a response to the OMA's stance, the provincial ministry of health said in a statement that the COVID-19 vaccines will not be mandated for Ontarians, "but we do strongly suggest that people embrace the opportunity now that four vaccines have been approved by Health Canada."

When asked Thursday whether it will be mandatory for health-care workers to get vaccinated, Premier Doug Ford said while they're encouraged to do so, no one should be forced to be immunized.

"I'm not in favour of a mandatory certification and neither, by the way, is the chief medical officer," said Ford. "Folks, just please go get vaccinated."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week he doesn't support the idea of mandatory vaccination for health-care workers, or implementing vaccine passports. 'We're not going to have a split society,' he said. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Similarly, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario said Friday that the premier was "on the wrong side of science" with his position on the issue of mandatory shots.

"Nurses stand with science and for patients," the group said on Twitter. "This is why we call for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination."

Seventy-nine per cent of adults in Ontario had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Friday and 60 per cent were fully vaccinated.

The provincial government recently introduced stricter COVID-19 vaccination rules for workers in long-term care homes, but the policy stops short of requiring that workers take the shot.

Ontario long-term care homes saw widespread outbreaks and deaths from COVID-19 during the first year of the pandemic. The situation has improved as the vast majority of residents have been vaccinated against the virus, but outbreaks have persisted mainly among staff, whose immunization rates have lagged.

The province has now made it mandatory for long-term care staff to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status. Workers who don't take the vaccine for non-medical reasons must take mandatory education about the importance of immunization.

As of this week the government reported 93 per cent of long-term care staff had received at least one dose and 87 per cent were fully vaccinated.

Province mulling issues around vaccine policies

Ontario government officials have been considering the pros and cons of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for health-care workplaces, according to a draft provincial document obtained by CBC News. It reveals the government is wading through the legal and ethical issues involved in developing vaccination policies for certain employment sectors. 

Although the document frequently refers to "mandatory vaccination," the policy it ultimately recommends would not actually require any workers to be immunized against COVID-19. Rather, it would allow unvaccinated health-care workers to have contact with patients, provided they wear full protective equipment (PPE) and undergo frequent screening for the novel coronavirus.   

"There is no suggestion that anyone be required to get a vaccine," says the draft, which has not been approved by Ford's cabinet. "The issue is whether there can be employment consequences for failure to do so." 

Ontario's Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, said in an emailed statement to CBC News that he is "not pursuing mandatory vaccines in the workplace."

In its statement, the OMA urged all Ontarians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible so the province can continue to reopen and reduce the risk of restrictions being reimposed if case counts jump.

"This is especially important for youths ages 12-17 whose vaccination rates are lower than other age groups," the statement reads.

"The OMA remains concerned about the Delta variant of the virus, which is more contagious and can cause more serious illness."

With files from Adam Carter, Mike Crawley and The Canadian Press