TORONTO – It’s “statistically curious” that two of Ontario’s 70 Progressive Conservative members of the legislature have medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines when those are supposed to be rare, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday.
The government announced late Friday that Lindsey Park, one of Premier Doug Ford’s caucus members, had been stripped of her parliamentary assistant role for misrepresenting her COVID-19 vaccination status.
But she has produced a medical exemption and will not be kicked out of caucus, Government House Leader Paul Calandra said. It makes Park the second caucus member with such an exemption, along with Scarborough Centre representative Christina Mitas.
Calandra said when all caucus members were asked about their vaccination status in August, he was under the impression that Park “was to be vaccinated.”
“Subsequently she sought and received a medical exemption without properly communicating that to myself or the rest of the house leadership,” Calandra said.
Ontario’s official guidance on medical exemptions says “there are very few actual contraindications to available COVID-19 vaccines that would qualify as medical exemptions.”
People who have a severe allergy to a component of the vaccine, experienced “serious adverse events” following a first dose, or have medical conditions that may affect their response to immunization should be referred to a specialist such an allergist, the guidance says.
“In many instances, safe administration of subsequent doses of COVID-19 vaccine is possible under the management of an allergist/immunologist,” the document says.
“True medical exemptions are expected to be infrequent and should be supported by expert consultation.”
Calandra said the two members “presumably” received a medical exemption from their medical practitioners that follows the guidelines.
But Horwath was skeptical.
“I find it statistically curious that there’s such a statistically large number of conservative caucus members (with an exemption) relative to the size of the caucus,” she said.
The other parties at the Ontario legislature have said all of their caucus members are fully vaccinated.
Rick Nicholls, who represents Chatham-Kent-Leamington, was ousted from caucus after he refused to get vaccinated.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said it looks like Ford is setting different standards for different people. Combined with Ford’s previously stated hesitancy to implement vaccine mandates and a proof-of-vaccination system, it sends a bad signal, Del Duca said.
“He’s made it quite clear that all of his attempts are very weak,” Del Duca said.
“They’re very half-hearted, because he doesn’t fundamentally believe in it. And I think it shows here, because there seems to be a difference in how they’re treating members within their own caucus.”
Ontario reported 511 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and two new deaths.
There are 159 patients in intensive care units due to COVID-19, though not all hospitals report those statistics on the weekends.
The province has lately been breaking down the numbers of new cases and ICU occupancy by how many people are vaccinated and unvaccinated, but Health Minister Christine Elliott said that due to a technical issue that data was not yet available Monday.
More than 86 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.