Essex tweaks vaccination policy, adds time limit, removes termination

Pharmacy technician drawing up doses of COVID vaccine. (File photo by Colin Gowdy, Blackburn News)

The Town of Essex is a step closer to approving a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy that would meet employees halfway.

“The reason we’re having to do this is a lack of leadership from the province,” said Councillor Steve Bjorkman, acknowledging the issue has divided the community. “I don’t know how this ever became our responsibility — but we do need to ensure that our workers do have a safe workplace.”

The original policy was tweaked. It now offers rapid antigen tests for low or no cost to staff, offers all employees vaccination education, and removes language threatening them with termination if they do not comply.

“We don’t want to lose any staff, so our goal, our intent, is not to terminate anybody,” said CAO Doug Sweet. “But — you can’t just have staff disregard the policy that’s going to be approved by council.”

Those who do not agree to test every three days would go on an unpaid leave of absence.

The changes also compel councillors to revisit the policy in three months.

The town plans to approach the Leamington Chamber of Commerce and the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce to see if it will supply it with the tests. Both organizations have offered them to small and medium businesses.

Councillor Sherry Bondy also pointed out the town has received grant money from the province to cover COVID-related costs.

“If we have to use this for three months to keep good employees that for whatever personal reason don’t want to have a vaccine, I’m okay with that,” she said.

A nurse practitioner employed by the town will conduct the tests to ensure their timeliness and accuracy.

The newly revised policy still needs the council’s final approval, but most councillors expressed support for it during a special meeting on Tuesday night.

Final approval is expected at next Monday’s meeting.