Employers in healthcare and education settings must develop vaccination policies for their staff by next month, Ontario’s top doctor announced Tuesday.
Staff must either show proof of full immunization, a medically valid exemption, or submit to frequent testing fo COVID-19, similar to the policy already in place for long-term care homes.
“This is what we need to do to protect Ontarians,” Dr. Kieran Moore said during his news conference.
The new directive will take effect September 7. It covers hospitals, ambulance services, home-care providers, congregate settings, community services for children with special needs, schools board employees, and licensed childcare settings.
Vaccination policies must also be implemented at colleges, universities, licensed retirement homes, and women’s shelters.
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Moore said his preference would be for people to take advantage of COVID-19 vaccination rather than stay unvaccinated and be tested regularly. But he confirmed the antigen rapid tests are currently free of charge and covered by the federal government. Testing would take place at least once a week, but could increase in frequency to three times per week in areas where Delta circulation is high.
The directives announced Tuesday apply to school employees, but Moore said discussions about a vaccination policy for students would be “prudent.” He also hinted that the province may use its Immunization of School Pupils Act to mandate that parents report their child’s COVID-19 immunization status.
“I think it’s prudent to include that in a suite of policies — that the immunization status of children be reported to local health authority so we know in advance the immunization status of classes,” he said.
So far Ontario has relied on a voluntary vaccination strategy, with Moore saying earlier this month that he’s proud of the high uptake so far. As of August 17, 82% of Ontarians age 12 and up have at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and 74% have two.
Moore also announced certain people who are vulnerable to COVID-19 will be offered third doses of vaccine this fall to protect against the Delta variant. These groups include transplant recipients, patients with hematological cancer, recipients of an anti-CD20 agent, and residents of high-risk congregate settings including long-term care, retirement, and First Nation elder care homes.