The province is taking a number of steps to reduce the impact of the Delta variant including making COVID-19 vaccination policies mandatory in high-risk settings, pausing Ontario’s exit from the Roadmap to Reopen and providing third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to vulnerable populations.
It is also expanding eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to children born in 2009 or earlier.
On Tuesday Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health issued a directive mandating hospitals, home and community care service providers to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers. Ambulance services will also be required to have a similar policy for paramedics. This vaccination policy, which is similar to that currently in place for long-term care homes, must be effective no later than September 7.
At a minimum the policy will require these individuals to provide proof of one of three things: a full vaccination against COVID-19; a medical reason for not being vaccinated against COVID-19; or completion of a COVID-19 vaccination educational session.
Individuals who do not provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 will be required to undertake regular antigen testing. These settings will be required to track and report on the implementation of their policies to the provincial government.
“While Ontario remains a leading jurisdiction for first and second doses administered and we have the infrastructure in place to manage outbreaks, the Delta variant is highly transmissible and the experience of other jurisdictions shows we must remain vigilant as we head into the fall,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. “By taking additional measures in high-risk settings we will further protect our most vulnerable, safeguard hospital capacity, ensure a safe return to school and keep Ontario running.”
The Ministry of Education also intends to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for all publicly-funded school board employees, and staff in private schools as well as for all staff in licensed child care settings for the 2021-22 school year, with rapid antigen testing requirements for staff who are not immunized against COVID-19.
Vaccination policies will also be implemented in other higher-risk settings such as post-secondary institutions, licensed retirement homes, women’s shelters; congregate group homes, day programs for adults with developmental disabilities, children’s treatment centres and other services for children with special needs, and licensed children’s residential settings.
As an additional measure to protect vulnerable Ontarians, the province will begin offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those at highest-risk.
This includes transplant recipients, patients with hematological cancers on active treatment, recipients of an anti-CD20 agent as well as residents of high-risk congregate settings including long-term care homes, higher-risk licensed retirement homes and First Nations elder care lodges.
Locations and timing for third doses will vary by public health unit and high-risk population based on local planning and considerations, with some beginning as early as this week where opportunities exist.
To ensure more children and youth can benefit from the protection offered by the vaccine, the province will extend eligibility to the Pfizer vaccine to children born in 2009. Starting on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, all children turning 12 years old before the end of 2021 will be eligible to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and can book their appointment through the provincial booking system, through their public health unit, or pharmacies, or can walk-in to vaccination clinics across the province.
Officials said Ontario has closely monitored data from Alberta and British Columbia in making this decision, and these provinces have offered the Pfizer vaccine to youth born in 2009 for several months with no risks identified.
Although more than 81 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and over have received a first dose, and the province is expected to reach its target of 75 per cent vaccinated with a second dose later this month, Ontario will remain in stage 3 of the reopening plan. The Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts will continue to monitor the data to determine when it is safe to exit the Roadmap and lift the majority of public health and workplace safety measures currently in place, officials said.