Toronto City Hall still hunting for flu-vaccination details after work bans

Toronto’s public health director will send letters to the city’s 284,000 employees this week informing them they could face disciplinary action under a new policy that requires them to be vaccinated before they can…

Toronto City Hall still hunting for flu-vaccination details after work bans

Toronto’s public health director will send letters to the city’s 284,000 employees this week informing them they could face disciplinary action under a new policy that requires them to be vaccinated before they can continue to work.

About 99.4% of the city’s workforce has already been vaccinated by employer-paid and personal services staff, as required under the city’s immunization mandate. Public health medical officer Erika Poschmann said there have been “no cancellations so far” in that group.

She would not share how many employees are in her strike force, but she did say the letters will be sent out in a “small, targeted approach” and are not being sent to “all of the city’s employees.”

The policy requires city employees working at the start of January to be vaccinated by Nov. 30. Ms. Poschmann said it’s too early to say whether it would apply to frontline workers, such as paramedics, firefighters and health care workers.

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“We’re still waiting for orders on work hour scheduling for our frontline workers.”

City council passed the policy on Nov. 1, adopting a new rule that would require many city employees to get vaccinated against seasonal flu and other vaccines against respiratory viruses before their jobs. It was the most divisive issue to come before council so far this year.

The move became necessary because of the city’s failure to encourage residents to get vaccinated, it said. Only 3% of the city’s population has a known flu history, and only 2% of city workers have had a confirmed illness, the public health department said.

Health officials say an outbreak of the flu is likely to begin by the end of the year, and it can last for five to seven weeks.

Councillor Tanya Park, who voted against the policy, said she understands why those directly affected by the policy would be the first people to get letters.

“I cannot imagine being in this situation, as a public health officer, let alone a provincial director,” she said. “That is unacceptable. And it is absolutely wrong. We are a compassionate community, and we do not stand for this.”

The policy is not without consequences for workers. Ms. Poschmann said she is concerned about the potential for high turnover among public health workers who had not been vaccinated. As a result, the city “is endeavouring to do everything it can” to encourage individuals and institutions to be vaccinated, she said.

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“This means looking at home care, perhaps reassigning patients, because they are not getting vaccinated, or perhaps replacing them with other staff that are vaccinated.”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Rotman Health Institute in Toronto are the only groups that have paid up to 120 hours of training in influenza-prevention, she said. Other large and smaller hospitals and social-service organizations have had privately paid immunization clinics.

In October, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced a public immunization campaign for all households in the province, under which five provincial agencies will have to vaccinate all children and people aged over six months.

But Ms. Poschmann said she cannot guarantee that everyone will be vaccinated in time.

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