Ontario still undecided on making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for long-term care staff

TORONTO — Long-term Care Minister Rod Phillips says the province will soon publicize staff vaccination rates in nursing homes across Ontario, but he did not yet commit to making the jab mandatory for these workers.

The minister made the remarks at a news conference on Thursday afternoon as advocates, families and some members of the health care community call for the province to make a mandatory vaccine policy for people working in long-term care.

Currently, hospitals and long-term care home operators are able to choose to create their own mandatory vaccine policies. Some have implemented the mandate, 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, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital, recently published a video on social media stating the province needs to make vaccinations mandatory for staff working with patients in long-term care homes and hospitals.

“Hospitals and long-term care homes should be designed to maximize the safety of the patients and people who take care of,” Warner said. “We need a universal mandatory vaccination policy for all hospitals and long term care homes in Ontario set by the province.”

“That’s the safest thing for patients. It should be implemented without any further delay.”

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