A draft provincial document obtained by CBC News reveals that the government is floundering in the legal and ethical issues involved in developing immunization policies for certain employment sectors. Although the document frequently refers to “mandatory vaccination,” the policy it ultimately recommends would not in fact require that no worker be vaccinated against COVID-19. Rather, it would allow unvaccinated health workers to have contact with patients, provided they are wearing full protective equipment (PPE) and undergo frequent testing for coronavirus.
“There is nothing to suggest that anyone is forced to be vaccinated,” says the project, which has not been approved by the office of Prime Minister Doug Ford. “The question is whether there can be any consequences on the job for not doing so. ”
The document is the latest addition to the intensifying debate in Canada over when a COVID-19 vaccination should be required.
The draft, dated July 2, is from the Ontario Ministry of Labor, Training and Skills Development. It was provided to CBC News by a source in government.
The document presents three options for compulsory vaccination in high-risk workplaces:
- Do not take any new action.
- Extend the vaccination rules now in place for long-term care staff to all health and group care settings.
- Require that all workers who interact with patients or the elderly in healthcare and long-term care be fully immunized against COVID-19, or wear full PPE and undergo regular screening.
The third option is labeled as the “preliminary recommendation”. It “protects the most vulnerable customers while leaving the choice to the workers”, specifies the document, which adds that this is similar to the approach adopted in Quebec.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Labor, Training and Skills Development, Monte McNaughton, declined to answer specific questions about the document, especially if the government is still actively considering its proposals.
“There has been no change in our government’s vaccination policy,” said Ryan Whealy, McNaughton’s acting press secretary, in an emailed statement.
“Our vaccine rollout is making tremendous progress, and we continue to encourage everyone to make an appointment to receive their first and second doses as soon as possible. ”
Ministry staff frequently draft documents containing policy options and recommendations that do not necessarily reflect actual government preferences, according to senior provincial officials.
The document says some employers are asking the government to provide clear rules on whether they can require proof of vaccination from their workers and whether they can require employees to be fully vaccinated.
Sticking to the status quo and taking no further action would not satisfy these employers, the document said.
The political landscape in Canada on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations is currently fragmentary, with few overarching standards set by provinces. This leaves individual institutions, employers and businesses to set their own rules.
A few universities and colleges have announced vaccination requirements for the fall, either for students living in residence or for students and staff coming to campus. Some companies offer incentives for their employees to get vaccinated.
Provinces are also adopting different approaches for “vaccine passports” that would give vaccinees better access to indoor activities than those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Starting this weekend, Manitoba is opening cinemas, casinos and a CFL game only to fully immunized people. The Quebec government has said it could restrict access for unvaccinated people to some facilities if COVID-19 cases increase in the fall.
However, the governments of Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick have completely excluded vaccine passports.
The document obtained by CBC News cites a “legal barrier” to employers requiring proof of vaccination: Ontario law prohibits employers from requiring access to a worker’s health records without their consent.
However, the document also says the hurdle could be removed with new legislation, as employers are allowed to access staff health records if necessary to comply with another law.
Vaccination against diseases other than COVID-19 is already a condition of employment in some industries in Ontario.
Daycare workers should be immunized in accordance with the requirements established by local public health officials, while paramedics must be vaccinated against a variety of communicable diseases. Exceptions are allowed for medical or religious reasons.
The document notes that Ontario’s new rules for long-term care staff do not actually require vaccination against COVID-19. A ministerial directive, which came into effect on July 1, allows staff to not be vaccinated, as long as they participate in an education program on the benefits of vaccination.