A COVID-19 Information Booster: Ontario Makes COVID-19 Vaccination Policies Mandatory for High-Risk Settings

As of today Ontario is pausing the province’s exit from its three step “Roadmap to Reopen”.  The Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts will continue to monitor the data to determine when it is safe to exit the “Roadmap” and lift the majority of public health and workplace safety measures currently in place.   

Further, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, is taking additional measures in response to the highly transmissible Delta variant in order to protect our most vulnerable, safeguard hospital capacity, ensure a safe return to school and keep Ontario running (read: avoid another stay at home order/lock down):

·      COVID-19 vaccination policies are mandatory in high-risk settings to increase protection for the vulnerable, including seniors, immunocompromised individuals and young children who are not yet eligible for vaccination;

·      Provide for third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable populations as an extra layer of protection against the Delta variant; and

·      Expand eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to children born in 2009 or earlier.

Who must have mandatory vaccination policies?

To date, in addition to long-term care homes that already have them, hospitals, home and community care service providers, and ambulance services (collectively referred to as “Vulnerable Health Sector”) must now have mandatory vaccination policies.

What must be included in these mandatory vaccination policies for Vulnerable Health Sector?

To protect vulnerable patients and staff in settings where the risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 and the Delta variant is higher, the Chief Medical Officer of Health issued the directive mandating:

  • Hospitals and home and community care service providers to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers, and for ambulance services to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for paramedics.
  • Such vaccination policies must be effective no later than September 7, 2021.
  • At a minimum all persons affected by this mandate must provide proof of 1 of 3 things:
  1. Full vaccination against COVID-19;
  2. A medical reason for not being vaccinated against COVID-19; or
  3. Completion of a COVID-19 vaccination educational session.

The third option is noteworthy as it takes into consideration Ontarians civil liberties and freedom of choice – however, the directive does not stop there. The directive, in providing the three options, seeks to balance community, health and public safety considerations where there is not full vaccination. Meaning that individuals who do not provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 must undertake regular antigen testing to avoid potential transmission.

And as expected Vulnerable Health Sector employers will be required to track and report on the implementation of their policies to the provincial government (i.e., similar to the vaccination policy requirements currently in place for long-term care homes).

Will there be other industries subjected to directives to have mandatory vaccination and/or vaccination status disclosure policies?

Yes.   It appears that such directives and their details with be rationally connected to the industry and their individual risk factors.  So far we know that: 

  • Schools.  The Ministry of Education intends to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for all: publicly-funded school board employees; staff in private schools; and staff in licensed child care settings for the 2021-2022 school year.  Under the same it is expected, like in the Vulnerable Health Sector, those staff who are not immunized against COVID-19 will be required to undertake rapid antigen testing to prevent the spread.

    Additionally, the province will extend eligibility to the Pfizer vaccine to children born in 2009 with first dose available as of Wednesday August 18, 2021 and is working with public health units and publicly funded school boards to run voluntary vaccination clinics in or nearby schools to make vaccines even more convenient and accessible for eligible students, their families, educators and school staff returning to school this fall.
  • Mandatory vaccination policies will also be implemented in other higher-risk settings such as: Women’s shelters; post-secondary institutions; licensed retirement homes; and congregate group homes and day programs for adults with developmental disabilities, children’s treatment centres and other services for children with special needs, and licensed children’s residential settings.

Take Away:  In making an “honest effort” to follow public health advice, public health guidance and applicable laws you must stay informed regarding public health directives applicable to your business. You must also apply those directives to information available regarding the risk of transmission in your business. It does not mean being heavy handed and overly reactive.  As always, employers are expected to undertake reasonable control measures that reflect the balancing of their duty to protect workers and the public with civil liberties and privacy rights.

Disclaimer: Information made available in this article is provided for general information purposes only and is provided without representation for its accuracy or completeness. It is not legal advice and should not be relied upon. You should not take any action or fail to take any action based on the information set out in this article or on this website.  Consult a lawyer at Sullivan Mahoney LLP and seek professional legal advice tailored to your unique situation.