Ontario nurses welcome the news that the provincial government will mandate vaccines for workers in hospitals, long-term care (LTC) and home care, will give booster shots to the vulnerable, and will halt further reopening. RNAO calls for further urgent action and urges the premier, minister of health, other cabinet ministers, and Ontario’s chief medical officer of health to move quickly and save lives.
The exponential growth of new infections is alarming. Ontario’s seven-day average on Aug. 15 stood at 440. That number last week was 261, and a week before that, the average was 189. Of yesterday’s 511 cases, more than 80 per cent of new cases occurred in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals. The protection afforded by full vaccination is even more striking when considering hospitalization due to COVID-19 (only 12.9 per cent are fully vaccinated) or admittance to an ICU (only 1.7 per cent are fully vaccinated). The troubling fourth wave is driven primarily by the unvaccinated and partially vaccinated.
RNAO says the government’s top priorities* should include:
- Expansion of mandatory vaccination to include all health-care workers in all health-care sectors and settings.
- Implementation of mandatory vaccination for all teachers and educators in all education settings, from daycare to post-secondary.
- Implementation of indoor masking for those in daycare, kindergarten and schools, from the age of two and up.
- Implementation of a vaccine passport/certificate/safe pass that is mandatory for access to risky indoor non-essential services – such as indoor concerts, sports events, restaurants, bars and gyms – as well as long-distance travel.
- The adoption of a public health framework that protects businesses implementing the measures noted above.
RNAO welcomes the province’s decision to delay the end of step three in its reopening plan. It would be wrong at this time to lift public health measures such as indoor capacity limits and limits for social gatherings and organized public events.
We are glad the government is following its own advice. When the reopening framework was first announced in May 2021, Premier Ford told Ontarians: “We need to keep in mind that all of this is dependent on the numbers. The truth is we can’t fully predict where things will go, so we need to be ready to react if we see a sudden increase in cases. We cannot let our guard down now. We must watch the trends like a hawk.”
RNAO says infection trends in recent days require swift action and a shift to address this fourth wave, driven by a dangerous variant. The current measures are insufficient and new measures, such as those listed above, and those included in RNAO’s call for a safe reopening of schools, are urgently required.
“Despite assurances it would monitor the situation, the government seems to be on standby instead of reacting to the reality on the ground. It is now apparent that relaxing steps one and two in the reopening plan have contributed to the early onset of the fourth wave. This is not the same virus we were confronting in the spring of 2020. And the government is not responding to the new variant with the vigilance and strength required,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth.
“What we are seeing is too little too late, all over again. We must move aggressively to implement the policies required to limit the impact of the fourth wave. A top priority is the safe reopening of schools. We also need to utilize vaccines to protect ourselves and our society from the ravages of the pandemic,” says RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun. “This means mandating vaccination for health-care workers as well as teachers and educators. While heartened by the federal government’s promise to bring in vaccine passports for international travel, RNAO stands by our call for Ontario to urgently implement a vaccine passport similar to Quebec’s, or to join the federal government’s vaccine passport so we can safely reactivate dormant sectors of the economy.”
RNAO is pleased that other health organizations have joined our call for mandatory vaccination of health-care workers. These include: Ontario Medical Association, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Nurses Association, Ontario Pharmacists Association, Canadian Pharmacists Association, Medical Laboratory Professionals’ Association of Ontario, Ontario Long-Term Care Association, AdvantAge Ontario and Huron Perth Health Care Alliance.
Ontario’s big city mayors and business organizations are also backing the need for action on vaccine passports. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and National Airlines Council of Canada, among others, have signaled their support. The Council of Universities has also issued a call to the premier for mandatory vaccination across Ontario campuses as well as the implementation of a vaccine passport.
At Queen’s Park, all three opposition parties have also called for mandatory vaccination of health-care workers.
If Premier Ford responds and acts on RNAO’s recommendations, we can avoid crowded hospitals, cancelled surgeries and procedures, as well as another lockdown.
The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) is the professional association representing registered nurses, nurse practitioners, and nursing students in Ontario. Since 1925, RNAO has advocated for healthy public policy, promoted excellence in nursing practice, increased nurses’ contribution to shaping the health system, and influenced decisions that affect nurses and the public they serve. For more information about RNAO, visit RNAO.ca or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
*Unless medical exemption for which accommodation shall be provided through proof of recent testing (48 hours).
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