Niagara Region Public Health says employers need to step up on staff vaccinations

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Published September 24, 2021 at 11:27 am

Dr. Mustafa Hirji is the acting medical officer of health in Niagara Region. (YouTube)

While the province has not firmly broached the issue from the business end, Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH) is strongly urging that employers take a firmer hand in ensuring the staff is fully vaccinated.

In a release, NRPH noted that with the Delta variant of COVID-19 driving the fourth wave in the region, “there have been 11 workplace outbreaks so far in September. This has required many employees to isolate (after) close contacts, disrupting business and impeding the economic recovery so many businesses need.”

The health unit concludes, “A common denominator of workplace outbreaks has been low vaccination uptake by employees.”

Thus far, the province has been content to let businesses create their own COVID-19 policies. Most are encouraging vaccinations with their employees and asking non-vaccinated staff to take antigen tests to prove they’re negative.

NRPH believes that a COVID-19 vaccination policy is the most effective means to increase vaccination coverage in the workplace, saying when employees are vaccinated, not only are they unlikely to become infected and bring COVID-19 into the workplace, but if a fully vaccinated worker is a close contact of someone infected, that employee does not need to isolate, thanks to their vaccination status.

It added, “A vaccination policy that increases vaccination coverage will keep employees and clients safe, and prevent isolation of employees so that businesses can stay open.”

Dr. Mustafa Hirji, Niagara’s Acting Medical Officer of Health pointed to the success that long-term care homes have had since being the first and most heavily vaccinated age group.

“While in past waves long-term care homes were heavily affected by outbreaks, vaccination has meant only one long-term care home has had an outbreak in September.”

“COVID-19 is instead finding concentrations of unvaccinated people in which to spread, and in 10 cases this month, that has meant workplaces with low vaccination rates.”

Niagara has developed COVID-19 vaccination workplace policy resources for:

  • Organizations mandated by a provincial directive to have a vaccination policy that are looking for additional resources to strengthen their existing policy 
  • Any workplace or organization that wants to voluntarily create a COVID-19 vaccination policy
  • Businesses that require Ontarians to provide proof of vaccination

Two sectors that the NRPH are suggesting could be higher risk are businesses with demographics known to have lower vaccination uptake (e.g. large numbers of employees under 30 years of age) and/or serve clients who are required to be fully vaccinated effective September 22 (e.g. food and drink establishments).

They suggest these sectors should be particularly attentive to the importance of having a vaccination policy for employees.

Among the immediate steps the health unit suggested is that businesses explore and develop vaccination policies, Public Health strongly recommends that they:

  • Make provisions for workers to have paid time off to get vaccinated
  • Support transportation for workers to get to a vaccine clinic
  • Endorse vaccinations at the senior leadership level
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