Ontario's Registered Nurses Association has this week launched a new social media campaign to have mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
The details were outlined in a letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and signed jointly by RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun and by RNAO president Morgan Hoffarth.
They quoted a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) that argued vaccines should be mandatory for all health workers in public and private settings.
"On the frontlines, health-care workers are at increased risk of contracting the virus and transmitting it," said the letter.
The authors also said that a vaccine not only protects the workforce and patients, it also reduces the burden of COVID-19 on the services being provided to keep people healthy. They added this also reduces the expenses of having PPE (personal protective equipment) and continuous COVID-19 testing.
In the letter, the authors further examined the legal issues that are raised, and said rules for vaccinations should not be left up to individual employers. The authors also suggested a legal challenge through the Charter of Rights would not succeed.
"The legality of this is addressed, noting labour laws will determine the ‘reasonableness’ of the directive. In 2019, nurses in B.C. won a case against mandatory influenza vaccination policies at their workplaces. It became a matter of individual choice," said the letter.
"However, COVID-19 is not influenza. Given the severity of the global pandemic, the authors suggest it is unlikely that challenges to a government mandate would be successful. The authors believe a challenge under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would likely not succeed if provisions were made for those who could not receive the vaccination due to underlying health issues or religious or conscientious objection," the letter said.
Other reasons cited by the nurses group include growing evidence about the outstanding effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines in preventing serious illness and hospitalization (much higher than the effectiveness of the typical influenza vaccine).
RNAO also argues that the arrival of new variants of the coronavirus, such as Delta and Lambda variants, that are more transmissible and dangerous, supports the call for mandatory vaccinations as these variants spread rapidly among those who are unvaccinated.
The RNAO added that it will support the premier in a decision to implement mandatory masking, even going as far as opposing the opposers.
"Premier, we at RNAO know that mandatory vaccination will encourage the vast majority of health-care workers to take the vaccine, but it will also raise resistance from a small number of opposers. Know that we will support you in addressing opposers," said the RNAO letter
The letter further revealed that mandatory vaccinations are taking place, or are being considered, in several countries around the world, not only for health workers, but for any workers who deal with the public.
The RNAO letter also called for its own members to get vaccinated and to act as role models for others in the health care professions.
"Just imagine being a patient in primary care, a hospital, a nursing home or receiving home care. Should you have to worry whether the caregiver is fully vaccinated or not? Ontarians requiring health services already have a health concern – we must not burden them with the fear of contracting COVID-19," said the letter.
Len Gillis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter at Sudbury.com. He covers health care in Northern Ontario.