Long-term care workers will have until Nov. 15 to provide proof of full immunization against COVID-19 under a mandatory vaccine policy introduced Friday by the provincial government.
Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips said the step was necessary given vaccination rates that were lagging at some homes in the province.
LTC operators were required to have staff vaccine policies, but previously could decide for themselves whether to make immunization mandatory, or allow regular testing as an alternative. About half of Ontario LTC homes had already made vaccination mandatory on their own accord, Phillips said.
While the overall vaccination rate for LTC staff is above 90 per cent in Ontario, he said 99 homes still had rates below 80 per cent. One home had a staff vaccination rate below 40 per cent, he said.
That poses an unacceptable risk to residents and other staff, especially given the more transmissible Delta variant, Phillips said.
The province will publicly post data on staff vaccination rates by LTC home later Friday.
It will be up to employers how to handle workers don't provide proof of vaccination by Nov. 15, whether that involves paid or unpaid leave, termination, or reassignment to duties outside of the home.
The policy will include an exemption for staff with a medical reason for not being vaccinated.
Visitors and essential caregivers will not be covered by the policy, except for those providing care on a daily basis, said Phillips.
Phillips acknowledged the possibility some homes could see further staffing shortages due to the policy. The province will offer additional funding and mobile support teams for homes that need them, he said.
“Please make the choice to protect yourself, your coworkers, and the residents that depend on you every day,” he urged unvaccinated workers.
Employers in other education and health settings, including hospitals, are still allowed to offer testing as an alternative under their vaccination policies.