Ottawa Public Health would support school boards that adopt mandatory staff vaccinations, trustees told

Carol E. Corker

OPH supports any policy that increases vaccinations, but employers must look at their own context and implementation issues when deciding on mandatory vaccination policies, Dr. Brent Moloughney said.

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Ottawa Public Health would support mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for school staff and requiring masks for children in kindergarten if school boards decide to adopt those policies, Deputy Medical Officer of Health Brent Moloughney says.

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In a presentation to trustees at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board on Tuesday night, Moloughney said those decisions would be up to school boards.

Trustees were scheduled to consider motions on both issues but ran out of time and will schedule another meeting to hold the discussion.

OPH supports any policy that increases vaccinations, but employers must look at their own context and implementation issues when deciding on mandatory vaccination policies, said Moloughney.

Trustee Lyra Evans had planned to present a motion requiring board staff and eligible students to be vaccinated unless they have medical exemptions.

While many Ontario colleges and universities have vaccine requirements of various types for students and staff, Evans said in an interview that she was not aware of any school board in Ontario that had adopted mandatory vaccinations for employees.

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The board should take all measures it can to protect students and staff, Evans said in an interview.

“Any person who is unvaccinated has the possibility of acting as a disease vector. They catch it, they have the possibility to transmit it to others. The more we create a wall of people with vaccinations, the greater likelihood that the (COVID-19) case will not pass to the vulnerable populations.”

Provincial guidelines offer school board employees a choice of providing proof of vaccination or a medical exemption, or taking an education course and submitting to regular rapid COVID-19 tests.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore on Tuesday called the Ontario guidelines a “baseline.” Hospitals and other “independent corporations” can adopt vaccination policies that reflect the populations they serve, he said during a media briefing.

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Moore said he appreciated the paediatric, academic and research hospitals that had adopted mandatory vaccination policies for staff, given the vulnerable populations served by those institutions, including children who aren’t eligible for vaccinations and patients with cancer or weakened immune systems.

At the same time, he expressed support for the government’s guidelines for education workers.

Moore said he hoped the vaccination guidelines for education employees would be “very effective,” citing the combination of COVID-19 testing for those who are unvaccinated with a “highly immunized workforce” and a “highly immunized student population, especially in a high school setting.” The province does not publish vaccination rates by employee category, but 75.3 per cent of people in Ontario age 12 and up were fully vaccinated as of Aug. 25. Children under age 12 are not eligible for the shot.

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For students, Ontario now requires them to be vaccinated against nine diseases in order to attend school, with exemptions allowed for both medical and ideological reasons.

Moore had said the province was considering adding the COVID-19 vaccine to that legislation. On Tuesday, he said vaccine uptake so far had been successful among students in Grades 9 to 12 “without any other action required.”

About 75 per cent of students in that age group have had first doses, he said.

At the same time, Moore said there was value in obtaining information about which students were vaccinated, and “the means by which we get that information is under active consideration.”

On the issue of masks, the province requires them for students in Grades 1 to 12 while indoors at school.

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A motion by Evans that will be debated at the next meeting was to extend the mask requirement to kindergarten students at the Ottawa-Carleton board.

Moloughney said OPH would support policies by school boards to require kindergarteners to mask up.

Local school boards and public health units can add their own restrictions to Ontario’s back-to-school guidelines.

Moloughney said OPH was coordinating with other public health units on recommendations for additional protection measures when schools open this fall to avoid a patchwork approach. Those recommendations should be ready in the next few days, he said.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board announced Tuesday some of the additional back-to-school pandemic safety measures it plans to impose this fall. The board will not allow large assemblies, field trips or non-essential visitors, and elementary students will eat lunch in their classrooms, the board said.

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