Staff at long-term-care homes across Ontario will have to either prove they’ve had a, or attend an educational session about the risks of opting out, if they don’t have a medically documented reason for declining the shot,
It will alsofor homes to have an immunization policy, and track and report on its implementation, including staff vaccination rates. The policies must be in place by July 1.
“I see this as more of a stick rather than a carrot,” said Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.
While 97 per cent of long-term-care residents are fully immunized, only 66 per cent of staff have gotten both doses, according to the province’s most recent numbers. Eighty-nine per cent have gotten a first shot. This probably amounts to around 10,000 unvaccinated people, said Stall.
The new directive could convince them to finally get the vaccine, he said. But it also could backfire, and even cause some to leave, which would be a problem as there’s already a staffing shortage in the sector.
Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care, said in a press release that the province wants to “build on the success” of the long-term-care vaccination campaign so far.
“Widespread vaccination within long-term-care homes is the best way to protect residents, staff and their families,” she added.
“This is kind of the step before actually mandating vaccination” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai. As well, homes will now be asking staff for their personal medical information on whether they got thevaccine.
“It might actually create more resistance in some people as opposed to figuring out what is the barrier,” he said, adding it’s also important to make it more convenient for staff to get vaccines and “easy for them to do the right thing.”
Vivian Stamatopoulos, a long-term-care advocate, said she endorses “anything that will help increase vaccine uptake in this sector.”
But, as it stops short of making vaccines mandatory, she’ll be “curious to be see if it will increase the uptake.”
Stamatopoulos said it will be essential to send mobile teams back to homes for staff after they’ve attended the educational programs, in case they change their minds. Some are hesitant to get the vaccine. But others “just don’t have the time and energy to go get it,” if it’s not provided at work.
The overall provincial number for vaccine uptake among staff masks disparities among homes, she added. Whenever there are cases brought in they shut down, and it’s the residents that suffer.
“They eliminate all the activities that make life worth living,” she said. “I’ve seen how things have been delayed in terms of visitation protocols and getting back to normal, frankly because of predominantly staff infections at this point, and it really frustrates families.”
Stall added the announcement is significant beyond just long-term care, as other workplaces try to figure out what to do around employees and vaccines.
“This may foreshadow what’s to come in many other sectors.”