Some Ottawans are wondering if Ontario’s new rules requiring COVID-19 vaccination go far enough and were announced early enough to make a difference.
The Ontario government says it will require vaccines in high-risk settings by September 7, but there is an opt-out option. Those who choose not to be vaccinated will instead be subjected to regular testing to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The move, announced on Tuesday, was aimed at encouraging educators and healthcare workers to get vaccinated and comes as the government braces for a fourth wave caused by the highly infectious delta variant.
The new policy falls short of the robust mandatory vaccination plan that many health experts like Dr Nili Kaplan-Myrth expected.
“We’re making vaccines mandatory, but if you don’t want a vaccine, you won’t be asked to come to work,” said Kaplan-Myrth, a family doctor in Ottawa.
The unsubscribe option exists
While the government of Premier Doug Ford has said it is making vaccination mandatory, if people in these high-risk settings, whether teachers, nurses or long-term care workers , do not want to be vaccinated, they can opt for a test instead.
They will need to undergo regular antigen testing and attend a “COVID-19 vaccination education session,” according to a press release.
For Kaplan-Myrth, promoting a vaccine is not really a mandate and equating the two “is a misconception.” She said the provincial government had had the opportunity to follow the lead of the federal government, but instead chose what she said was a half-baked mandate.
“It comes from a place of hope and wish, but it’s not planning that will be effective,” Kaplan-Myrth said.
“This announcement did nothing for me as a parent”
Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said the number of cases would likely increase as people return inside.
And Kaplan-Myrth says allowing unvaccinated people around students and in hospitals could spark a new wave of cases this fall.
“If we look at what’s going on in the United States, we look at what’s going on overseas, we know that the variant is making more and more children sick,” she said.
The fear that her children will fall ill is something that worries Navneet Bhandari. The mother of two is preparing to send her six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter to school.
While she appreciated Moore and others’ strong encouragement for the vaccine, Bhandari says the timing of the announcement could mean education workers don’t have enough time to get two doses.
“That’s what they are doing,” Bhandari said. “But I find it odd the way it was just announced… when the school is due to open in a few weeks.”
Ultimately, Bhandari said increasing testing on unvaccinated people is a step in the right direction, but sending her children, who cannot be vaccinated due to their age, to school with of unvaccinated people is nerve-racking.
“This announcement did nothing for me as a parent … I have anxiety for both of them … I am very worried.”
When teacher Danielle Takoff returns to see her grade 7 students this fall, she knows that many will likely be vaccinated or eligible to be vaccinated. But Takoff says the responsibility for getting vaccinated and protecting students falls heavily on teachers.
“If teachers can’t understand the science and do this risk assessment… then maybe they’re in the wrong profession,” Takoff said.
The French immersion teacher says students need to get back to normal life and that vaccines will play a big part.
“Students need this, children need to be healthy,” Takoff said.