Rod Phillips, Ontario’s long-term care minister, says the province will soon publish staff immunization rates in nursing homes across the province, but he hasn’t committed to making the vaccine mandatory for these personnel.
The minister made the comments at a news conference on Thursday afternoon, as advocates, families, and some members of the health-care community call on the province to implement a mandatory immunization policy for long-term care workers.
At the moment, hospitals and long-term care facility operators can opt to implement their own required vaccine policies. Some companies have followed through on the demand, while others have not.
When asked if he plans to comply with the demands, Phillips told reporters that the province is currently focusing on monitoring the situation in homes.
“We got the best success so far in the province with the steps we’re taking but, but we’re going to do what we need to do,” Phillips said. “We’ll keep monitoring and doing what needs to be done, but right now the important thing … is just to see what’s going on and talk to the frontline health-care workers.”
“Some of the places have put mandates in are struggling with making sure they maintain staffing, and that’s an important thing for me to understand as we look at those options.”
According to provincial data, currently amid the fourth wave fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant, 13 long-term care homes are experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak. There are 36 residents with confirmed active cases of positive residents and 20 active cases of positive staff, the province reports.
Advocates, families and health experts have repeatedly called on Premier Doug Ford’s government to end the current policy that allows for regular tests for unvaccinated staff, and instead make vaccinations mandatory province-wide.
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore warned on Tuesday that the province would “leave no stone unturned” and that long-term care workers could face a province-wide mandatory vaccine mandate.
“We want to look at what long-term care facilities have low immunization rates and how we can work more closely with them to further protect their workers who remain vulnerable,” he said. “We need to protect the patients in that environment to give them the respect and proper care that they deserve and 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 immunization, but if we’re not achieving the immunization rates required to protect the vulnerable. We may have to look at stronger policies.”
Dr. Michael Warner, the head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, recently posted a video on social media arguing that the province should require vaccines for employees dealing with patients in long-term care homes and hospitals.
“Hospitals and long-term care facilities should be structured to maximize the safety of patients and caregivers,” Warner added. “Ontario needs to establish a universal mandated vaccination policy for all hospitals and long-term care homes.”
“It’s the safest option for the patients. It should be implemented as soon as possible.”