MOH concerned about looming vaccination mandates in health system

Rich Michaud, from Tillsonburg gets his COVID-19 vaccine at Gof Hall in Woodstock. March 15, 2021. (File photo supplied by Southwestern Public Health)

Looming COVID vaccination mandates for Ontario healthcare workers are causing concern for Sarnia-Lambton’s top doctor.

During a media briefing Thursday morning, Lambton Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sudit Ranade said the province needs all hands on deck to help with every aspect of COVID in the health system.

Dr. Ranade was asked about Quebec’s decision to delay its vaccine mandate deadline for healthcare workers amid worries about an urgent staffing shortage.

“It does concern me.  And frankly, it doesn’t concern me just about our local situation, but it concerns me across the health system in Ontario.”

Dr. Ranade said a number of healthcare provision systems are having a significant issue with finding trained and available staff.

“So, on one hand if you’re saying ‘there’s a bunch of folks who you’re preventing from working,’ and on the other hand you’re saying ‘we have staff shortages,’ it seems to me like those are mixed messages,” he said.  “And so is there a way to manage this?  Quebec has decided that the way that they’re going to manage it is to delay the implementation of [its vaccine mandate deadline for health workers] by about a month, but there might be better ways to manage this too.”

In September, Bluewater Health announced an updated vaccination policy requiring hospital and professional staff to be fully vaccinated by October 31.

Hospital Communications Chief Julia Oosterman said as of Thursday, 93 per cent of staff were fully vaccinated, and that the hospital is projecting to have 97 per cent of staff immunized by October 31.  Approximately 30 employees have refused to disclose their vaccination status.

Ontario reported 417 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, including at least 146 cases in fully vaccinated people.

Dr. Ranade said it’s not surprising to see this many ‘breakthrough cases,’ adding that the question is ‘how bad does their illness get?’

“And what is the proportion of these vaccinated breakthrough cases, that you’re calling them, that would have had severe disease based on their existing risk or age?  How severe was their illness?  What risk profile did they have?  Those kind of questions now we need to start asking because we do know that it’s possible to get COVID after you’re vaccinated, we just know that it’s less likely.”

Dr. Ranade thinks reporting on cases and hospitalizations should be separated.

“I’m happier to see a situation where there’s a breakthrough case in a person who’s 80 who doesn’t end up in hospital, because I have the knowledge that if they didn’t have the vaccine in the first place, that could have been a person that was admitted to the ICU, and that’s really what we’re trying to avoid here.”