To assist in the fight against the increase of the Delta variant spreading throughout the province, the Ontario government has announced a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy in high-risk settings.

Included in the announcement is that the government has hit the pause button on the exit of Step Three of the provinces Roadmap to Reopen plan and third doses will also be administered to the vulnerable population.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health has issued a directive, mandating hospitals and home and community care service providers to have a COVID-19 vaccination policy for employees, staff, contractors, students, and volunteers. Ambulance services will also need to implement a COVID-19 vaccination policy for paramedics.

These services will need to implement the policy no later than September 7, 2021, and at a minimum will require these individuals to provide proof of one of three things:

  • Full vaccination against COVID-19;
  • A medical reason for not being vaccinated against COVID-19; or

  • Completion of a COVID-19 vaccination educational session.

Those who do not provide a proof 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. This is similar to the vaccination policy requirements currently in place for long-term care homes.

“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 Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “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.”

As they return to school is nearing, the Ministry of Education intends to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for all publicly-funded school board employees, and staff in private schools as well as for staff in licensed child care settings for the 2021-2022 school year. Rapid antigen testing will be done for those who do not show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. Voluntary vaccination clinics are also in the works for schools to a more convenient and accessible for eligible students, their families, educators, and school staff returning to school this fall. The government is also expanding eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to children born in 2009 or earlier.

Vaccination policies will also be implemented in other higher-risk settings such as:

  • Post-secondary institutions;

  • Licensed retirement homes;

  • Women’s shelters; and

  • Congregate group homes and 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.

“With the support of Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, our government is taking action to make schools as safe as possible,” said Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education. “Our plan will protect our schools, ensure rapid speed with contact tracing, all with the intention of keeping them open for the benefit of Ontario students.”

As an additional measure to continue protecting Ontario’s most vulnerable, based on the recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts, the province will begin offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those at highest-risk, providing them with an extra layer of protection against the Delta variant. This includes:

  • Transplant recipients (including solid organ transplant and hematopoietic stem cell transplants);

  • Patients with hematological cancers (examples include lymphoma, myeloma, leukemia) on active treatment (chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy);

  • Recipients of an anti-CD20 agent (e.g. rituximab, ocrelizumab, ofatumumab); and

  • 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.