Ontario’s chief medical officer is warning that health-care and nursing home workers who have not had COVID-19 shots could face mandatory jabs as the province aims to boost the vaccination rate “well into the 90s.”
While several hospitals and nursing home operators have made vaccinations compulsory for staff, the province will consider ordering the same for holdouts, Dr. Kieran Moore said Tuesday as the province reached first doses in 85 per cent of the population over age 12, and 79 per cent with two shots.
“We would have to look very closely at the highest-risk situations, such as where health-care workers are taking care of vulnerable populations where we haven’t had a high enough immunization uptake as of yet,” he told a weekly news conference.
Moore said the higher the vaccination rate the quicker COVID will come under control and public health measures can be eased.
Opposition parties have repeatedly called on Premier Doug Ford’s government to make vaccinations fully mandatory for all health-care and education workers to better protect patients and students, instead of the current policy that allows for regular tests of the unvaccinated.
Moore’s remarks came as Ontario prepares to publicly post vaccination rates for all nursing homes in the coming weeks, allowing residents and their families to gauge safety levels as the fourth wave continues — driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.
Moore took aim at long-term-care homes where unvaccinated workers have been blamed for bringing infections in, putting residents at risk.
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“I’ve watched long-term-care facilities have low immunization rates,” Moore said, pledging to work “more closely” with them to improve levels.
“This is a setting that we have to learn from waves one, two and three, that is exceptionally vulnerable, that we need to protect the patients in that environment, give them respect and proper care that they deserve,” he added.
“Part of that respect and proper care is that everyone around them should be immunized. We’ll work with the institutions to try to maximize immunizations but if we’re not achieving the immunizations rates required to protect the vulnerable we may have to look at stronger policies.”
Almost 4,000 residents of nursing homes have died from COVID-19. The government reported 10 of Ontario’s more than 600 long-term-care facilities are now in outbreak, the highest since June. There were three new cases in staff reported Tuesday.
Overall, Ontario had 574 new cases with eight deaths. The seven-day average of new infections has plateaued in the low 700s in the last two weeks but Moore cautioned against complacency given how cases have soared in Alberta.
There have been 1,046 cases in students and staff since schools resumed in-class learning after Labour Day, a number Moore cast as low given there are two million pupils and 300,00 staff.
“This is not cause for alarm and in-person learning continues to remain safe,” Moore said, noting most cases detected in schools were acquired in the community, not in class.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
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