LILLEY: Ford gets vax mandate for health workers right

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The Ford government will not impose a province-wide vaccine mandate on health workers.

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The government cited a high level of vaccinations among doctors, nurses, and other health workers as well as concerns about the impact mandated vaccinations would have on surgeries and other medical procedures.

It’s a sensible decision that puts a priority on patient care instead of a rigid demand that everyone get the jab.

Opposition parties, the Ontario Medical Association, the Ontario Hospital Association, and others called for a province-wide government vaccine mandate, but on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said no.

“I am not prepared to jeopardize the delivery of care to millions of Ontarians,” Ford said in a statement Wednesday.

“Having looked at the evidence, our government has decided to maintain its flexible approach by leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals.”

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As the Toronto Sun first reported three weeks ago, Ford sent a letter to hospital CEOs and other health executives asking them for their views on a government vaccine mandate for the sector.

His letter also asked a number of direct questions on whether hospitals had plans for dealing with surgical backlogs and what impact losing staff due to vaccine mandates would have on providing ongoing services.

British Columbia has put 3,225 health workers on unpaid leave for not being vaccinated. That only works out to roughly 2.5% of the health-care workforce in that province, but it still caused surgeries, diagnostics, and other medical procedures to be scaled back.

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Quebec was supposed to bring in a vaccine mandate for health workers on Oct. 15 but pushed it back to Nov. 15 in the face of more than 20,000 unvaccinated workers. When announcing the decision to delay the mandate, Quebec’s health minister said losing those workers would have meant closing 35 operating rooms and 600 hospital beds.

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On Wednesday, Quebec dropped their vaccine mandate for existing health workers and said it would now only apply to new hires. Health Minister Christian Dube said Quebec couldn’t afford to lose so many staff.

“To deprive ourselves of 8,000 people will have devastating consequences for our network,” Dube said.

Given Ontario’s backlog of surgeries and the number of people who missed cancer screenings and other important medical procedures due to COVID shutdowns, it makes no sense to close operating rooms and cancel procedures over vaccination status.

We need people to get treatment, not fire workers. Yet, that is what the opposition wants.

I asked NDP Leader Andrea Horwath three times earlier this week what the balance should be between getting workers vaccinated and ensuring procedures aren’t cancelled due to a lack of health workers. Three times, Horwath said she wanted a vaccine mandate — even if that meant cancelling surgeries.

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It would be preferable for everyone to be vaccinated, but that is not realistic.

Nor is this the fault of Ford or the Ontario government and their policies. We don’t get full vaccination when it comes to schools, the flu shot — even in the case of health workers — and this is not a problem unique to Ontario.

Nor is this unique to health.

Flights are being cancelled across North America as airlines fire or suspend unvaccinated workers. The TTC is curtailing bus service to deal with unvaccinated workers.

The vast majority of people in Ontario, and across Canada, have been vaccinated and polls show strong support for vaccine mandates. Actions can have consequences, though, and one of the consequences of pushing a vaccine mandate will be fewer health workers.

We’ve already seen workers shown the door or suspended, including 59 in Kingston, 57 in Windsor, 47 at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, 147 at Sick Kids, and nearly 200 at University Health Network in Toronto. Fewer workers mean less care; it’s as simple as that.

Ford has made a difficult decision, but it’s the right one for ensuring patients aren’t turned away due to a lack of staff.

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