Health, education workers to be vaccinated or face frequent testing

Dr. Kieran Moore, via the Government of Ontario YouTube channel)

The Ontario government is releasing a suite of vaccination policies for high-risk settings and increasing protection for vulnerable individuals as it prepares for a difficult fall.

“We are preparing aggressively for the fall. I am sorry to say I think it is going to be a difficult fall and winter. Hence the reason we’re putting these policies in play to best protect our communities,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.

The province is now mandating that all hospitals, home and community care service providers, and ambulance services have a vaccine policy for employees, contractors, students, and volunteers. The vaccination policies must be effective no later than September 7 and require employees to provide proof of either a full vaccine, a medical reason for not being vaccinated or the completion of a COVID-19 vaccine educational session.

Individuals who do not provide proof of vaccination will be required to undertake regular antigen testing, at least once a week. The testing requirement could increase depending on the current risk level in the community.

Vaccination policies are also being developed for schools, post-secondary institutions, retirement homes, women’s shelters and congregate group homes.

The Ministry of Education will introduce a vaccine disclosure policy for employees of all publicly funded school boards, private schools, and licensed child care settings. The policies will include a rapid antigen testing requirement for those who are not vaccinated.

As the Delta variant is spreading throughout the province, the Chief Medical Officer of Health has also decided to pause the province’s exit from the Roadmap to Reopen. All restrictions and limits set out in Step 3 of the roadmap will remain in place.

In an effort to increase vaccination rates throughout the province, the province is opening up eligibility for children who have yet to turn 12, but will in 2021. All youth born in 2009 will be eligible to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.

A third dose of the vaccine will soon be offered to vulnerable populations like transplant recipients, patients with hematological cancers, recipients of an anti-CD20 agent and residents of long-term care homes.

“We’ve analyzed in frail elderly, their antibodies, the antibodies that protect us against infection, have tended to drop off in that population four to five months after their last dose and hence the recommendation that we’ve made to be able to provide a booster dose in that population,” said Dr. Moore.

Locations and timing for third doses will vary by public health unit and high-risk populations.