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Zalan: Why are Ontario’s vaccine rules so haphazard?

The rationale behind who needs to be vaccinated and who doesn’t, don’t make a lot of sense to Dr. Peter Zalan, who implores Ontario health officials to ‘seize the moment’ on the rules
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Parents and doctors have advocated for the use of rapid tests to keep children in classrooms, especially as the Delta variant spreads. It detects asymptomatic carriers of the virus. 

In recent weeks, some parents organized testing in their school communities with this intention in mind. They had accessed the tests through StaySafe, a program run out of the Kitchener/Waterloo region that provides taxpayer-funded rapid antigen tests to businesses and community groups. The government told agencies to stop supplying parents with the tests.

Such screening will only be available for students through participating public health units where risk of transmission is high.

The potential risk of transmission of the virus in classrooms full of unvaccinated individuals is high everywhere. Outbreaks may occur anytime without vaccination. 

The Ontario government requires two rapid tests a week for unvaccinated school staff, paid for by taxpayers. The same for employees in the hospital system. Children under 12 are also unvaccinated individuals, not because of choice but because there is no vaccine. 

Rapid antigen testing is available at pharmacies for $40 per test. Home testing kits are not available for purchase. Parents can choose to make appointments for testing at drug stores and spend $80 per week to keep their children safer. 

It does not seem fair when unvaccinated school and hospital staff are given kits for home use at no cost. 

In Scotland, students are offered rapid tests twice a week.

There is more.

While we must show our vaccine passports to enter a restaurant, the waiters, waitresses and kitchen staff do not need to be vaccinated. Nor do hairdressers need to be vaccinated, individuals who work in close proximity with their clients.

At Cambrian College, if you are not fully vaccinated, staff or student, you have to undergo a rapid antigen test once a week at an outside facility. Cambrian will pay the $40 cost of each test. As of Oct. 16, if you are still not fully vaccinated, you will not be allowed on the campus, unless you have a medical exemption. The institution will then continue to fund the weekly tests.

There is a prominent sign on the path leading to the Laurentian University campus. Entrance onto campus is forbidden for individuals who are unvaccinated unless they have an exemption, in which case they must be tested within 72 hours before entry.

At Health Sciences North, unvaccinated employees will have to get tested twice per week. The province is paying for the home testing kits. The hospital is waiting for further direction from the province about making vaccination mandatory. 

University Health Network in Toronto has given its employees a date by which to get vaccinated or lose their jobs. Rules vary from institution to institution throughout Ontario. Perhaps hospital staff who are determined to remain unvaccinated will shop around for easygoing institutions. “What a revolting development this is,” quoting William Bendix in The Life of Riley.

All staff in Ontario’s long-term care homes who by Nov. 15 are not fully vaccinated will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence. On the other hand, there is no vaccine mandate for home-care workers.

On Sept. 27, the chair of the Toronto District School Board requested that the Ontario government add the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for students 12 and older. Right now, unvaccinated students, 12 and older may attend in-person classes. Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged her government is considering the move.

While the Delta variant continues to spread, our province continues to consider.

In Quebec, unvaccinated employees in the health sector face suspension without pay after an Oct. 15 deadline. Nursing licences will be suspended. The Quebec College of Physicians, announced it would suspend the right to practise medicine of any member who refuses to be vaccinated. 

Dr. Keiran Moore, Premier Doug Ford, please seize the moment. Become the leaders the province so badly needs.

Dr. Peter Zalan is the former president of the medical staff at Health Sciences North, and a retired intensive care physician.


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