THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay’s proposed vaccine policy will require at least some municipal employees to provide proof of vaccination by Sept. 24, but won’t require vaccination.
Those who choose not to be immunized against COVID-19 could instead submit to an education session and regular antigen testing under a draft policy developed by city administration, which will be debated by city council on Monday.
The testing requirement would not kick in until Nov. 1 under the plan.
The city's vaccine policy currently applies only to provincially mandated sectors, like paramedics and childcare workers.
However, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit “strongly recommends” extending it to all employees, noted a report from the office of city manager Norm Gale.
While it's not contained in the report, Gale said Thursday administration would recommend applying the vaccine disclosure policy to all staff. That discussion will take place privately in camera on Monday, with the city saying it relates to legal advice and labour relations matters.
The policy will not apply to city councillors themselves, though Gale’s report notes council could amend it to cover elected officials.
Cities like Toronto and Ottawa are moving toward stronger vaccine policies for staff that will require vaccination, according to the report, while many others are allowing those who choose to remain unvaccinated to instead undergo education and testing.
Gale suggested that other measures would help balance the risks of allowing unvaccinated individuals in the workplace.
“Vaccinations are a very important tool proven effective to fight this awful virus,” he said, “but it’s not the only toolkit we have. We take many health and safety provisions within the workplace. We’ve invested greatly both in the physical workplace and education and training.”
Mayor Bill Mauro, who called for a vaccine policy to apply to all frontline city staff, has previously suggested he was open to stronger policies that require vaccination.
CUPE Local 87, the city's largest bargaining unit, has opposed strict vaccine mandates, saying employees who choose not to be vaccinated should be accommodated.
All union representatives were consulted in the development of the vaccine policy, the city said.
Provincially mandated employees already covered by the city’s policy as of Sept. 7 include paramedics, specialized transit operators, and employees, students, volunteers, and contractors working at Jasper Place, and in city-run childcare operations, as well as the Friendly Visiting program at the Thunder Bay 55 Plus Centre.
Gale suggested the specifics of the vaccine policy could evolve just as other public health measures have throughout the pandemic.
“The story of this pandemic has been constant change,” he said. “I would not be surprised at all that this evolves further and there’s more change. It should surprise no one that that might happen.”