Ontario long-term care staff must have first COVID vaccine to attend work today

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Employees have been given until December 13 for full vaccination

Ontario long-term care staff must have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose to go to work today.

Staff who don’t present proof of a first dose must instead show a medical exemption to be able to enter a long-term care home for work.

Today had been set as the deadline for workers to be fully vaccinated against the virus but the Ministry of Long-Term Care has pushed that date to Dec. 13.

It says the change was made to accommodate new guidance on vaccine dose intervals from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Government data from Friday morning showed 98 per cent of long-term care workers had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips announced the sector-wide mandate last month, saying more action was needed to protect vulnerable residents from COVID-19.

Associate Deputy Long-Term Care Minister Erin Hannah informed licensees of the change in vaccination deadlines in a Nov. 4 memo.

She said people are being given more time to get their shots because the National Advisory Committee on Immunization issued guidance in October saying the “optimal” interval between first and second doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is eight weeks.

The Moderna shots are currently authorized to be taken four weeks apart and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are authorized for a three-week dose interval.

In issuing its guidance, NACI noted that risk, local transmission and the need for faster second dose protection should be considered when choosing a longer dose interval.

Hannah wrote to licensees that people may choose to ask for a longer interval between shots and the ministry directive is changing to allow for that.

She said homes that implemented mandatory vaccination policies before the ministry will need to decide on their own policy adjustments.

Sara Singh, deputy leader for the Opposition New Democrats, said Friday that the decision to extend the vaccination date is “concerning,” but shows that challenges with vaccine mandates can be overcome.

The Progressive Conservative government has resisted mandating vaccinations for hospital workers over concerns about patient care if too many staff lose their jobs.

“Residents in long-term care deserve to be protected,” Singh said in a statement. “(Premier) Doug Ford should stop making excuses and guarantee the same level of protection for hospital patients and students by mandating vaccination for all health-care and education workers.”

Hannah’s Nov. 4 memo also shared some guidance about developing vaccination policies for visitors to long-term care homes.

She said such policies should consider legal obligations to patients’ rights and the obligation to keep homes safe, and advised consulting with legal counsel, residents, families and the local public health unit while developing visitor vaccination policies.