A group of science experts advising Ontario on the pandemic says mandating COVID-19 vaccines for hospital workers would reduce the risk of staff shortages because fewer employees would be likely to get infected by the virus.
The Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table shared their written response Tuesday to Premier Doug Ford's recent call for input on the issue.
Ford last week asked stakeholders whether requiring all hospital workers be immunized against the virus would worsen staff shortages and impact services.
The advisory group says a mandatory vaccination policy is evidence-based and would make hospital settings safer.
They note that hospital workers who aren't vaccinated against the virus are at greater risk of being unable to work for long periods of time if they suffer from an acute or long COVID-19 infection.
The group also pointed out that early media reports about vaccine mandates indicate a small number of healthcare workers leave the workforce to avoid being vaccinated.
The letter also points to past mandates that increased uptake for influenza vaccines and make the case that trust-building strategies can be employed to avoid losing workers.
The group also wrote that patients in Ontario hospitals are more likely to be elderly or immunocompromised and therefore at higher risk of breakthrough COVID-19 infections. They argue that a fully vaccinated workforce would protect all patients from infection.
"Requiring that hospital workers be vaccinated is an evidence-based policy that protects Ontarians," the science table wrote.
In his letter last week, Ford had asked health-care leaders to provide input on potential impacts of a vaccine mandate, anything more the government could be doing to increase vaccine uptake among health-care workers, and whether unvaccinated staff could be reassigned to non-front-line roles.
He also asked hospital CEOs specifically what impact a mandatory policy would have on diagnostic procedures or elective surgeries.
Many hospitals across the province have already enacted their own mandates, going beyond the current provincial policy of having hospital staff vaccinated or subject to frequent testing.
Ontario reported 328 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths from the virus on Tuesday. Health Minister Christine Elliott said 223 of the infected people are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status.
Provincial data show there are 159 people intensive care due to COVID-19, including 101 patients on ventilators.
The province reported 87 per cent of residents aged 12 and older with one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 83 per cent with both shots.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press