Long-term care homes and advocates are asking the province to mandate the COVID-19 vaccination to staff and healthcare workers across all settings. The provincial government released guidelines that all staff in long-term care homes must disclose their vaccination status, and those who are unvaccinated have to undergo education about the importance of immunization.
Healthcare workers are already required to be vaccinated against other highly infectious diseases, some that are less severe than COVID-19. This includes vaccinations against hepatitis B, measles, and periodic tuberculosis tests that must be taken - otherwise, staff cannot work in their terms of employment.
Beyond these guidelines, the province has been silent about mandating vaccines for workers in the future. Advocates bring up the point that mandatory vaccines would ensure that facilities can keep up with having adequate staffing levels across the board. If vaccines are made mandatory on a facility by facility basis, it is possible that some facilities will lose out on their staff to other workplaces that do not require vaccinations. Vaccinations will also protect healthcare workers in the workplace which will help ensure that there are safe environments to deliver high quality of care.
Vaccine hesitancy may be contributing to some long-term care workers denying immunization. Staff in long-term care homes include personal support workers, therapeutic assistants, dietary aids, and community outreach staff that all come from different backgrounds and barriers to get vaccinated such as education, paid sick leave, childcare or working multiple jobs.
Increasing vaccinations rates have had a positive impact across Ontario’s long-term care homes for both residents and staff. Increased vaccination rates have helped decrease the spread of COVID-19, which has allowed restrictions to ease such as family visitation policies. Residents have slowly begun to participate in group activities, have social connections, and experience a sense of normalcy in homes.
As the concerning Delta variant continues to spread and a potential fourth wave on the rise, it is vital to take all necessary steps to ensure that residents and staff are protected in facilities. Mandatory vaccinations in long-term care homes will maintain stability in the healthcare system and mitigate future outbreaks linked to unvaccinated staff.