TORONTO — Ontario won’t mandate COVID-19 vaccination for hospital workers despite support for the measure from the organization representing hospitals and the province’s COVID-19 science advisers.
Premier Doug Ford pointed to evidence of staff shortages related to vaccine mandates from elsewhere in Canada and said existing Ontario policies will keep people safe without losing workers who refuse to get the shots.
“I am not prepared to jeopardize the delivery of care to millions of Ontarians,” Ford said in a written statement on Wednesday. “Having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals.”
His decision comes after he wrote to hospitals and other stakeholders last month asking for input on the issue. He said the government looked at those responses and at “real-world evidence” and decided to stick with its current approach.
Currently, hospital workers in Ontario must get vaccinated or regularly get tested for the virus, though many hospitals have gone ahead with stricter policies. Hospitals that have placed on leave or terminated unvaccinated employees have reported staff losses of between one and three per cent.
Ford pointed to already high vaccination rates in hospitals as another factor behind his decision. He said vaccines and strong infection control protocols have kept hospitals safe and they are able to manage virus outbreaks.
His statement also pointed to news of surgery cancellations in British Columbia due to staff shortages after its vaccine mandate took effect.
Ford said the government will keep monitoring the situation and might revisit the policy “if warranted.”
Ontario has mandated COVID-19 vaccination for long-term care workers, with a deadline of Nov. 15 for staff to get immunized. But Ford has repeatedly said he is reluctant to mandate vaccines.
While the government was still mulling its approach, Health Minister Christine Elliott said potential staffing shortages were of particular concern in unspecified northern and rural hospitals.
The Ontario Hospital Association wrote to Ford in support of a provincewide mandate — a position it said was endorsed by 120 of 141 member hospitals.
In their letter, the organization’s CEO and board of directors chair referenced spikes in vaccination rates at hospitals that made vaccines mandatory, and said staff shortages from outbreaks are more difficult to manage than staff shortages from vaccination policies.
The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, an expert group that advises the government on the pandemic, also drew that connection in its response to Ford. The group wrote that hospital workers who aren’t vaccinated may be out of work for long periods of time if infected with COVID-19, and said the policy would make hospitals safer for vulnerable patients.
The Ontario Nurses’ Association wrote to Ford saying the current policy allowing unvaccinated workers to be tested is reasonable and cited concerns about worker shortages.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press