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Recent News

Brampton Guardian: “Workers’ right to privacy must not trump the right to health care”

August 12, 2021
Alison and Gavi Engel-Yen and family

Parents whose children have physical disabilities that leave them immunocompromised have a very long list of things to fight for and worry about every single day.

It’s an ongoing battle just to maintain all the health care and supports their kids need to stay healthy, grow up and thrive in school. It’s no surprise that the pandemic has made their job that much harder.

But, months after COVID vaccines have been made widely available, it makes absolutely no sense that they’re still fighting an uphill battle to keep their children safe from potentially unvaccinated health-care workers.

Take 10-year-old Gavi. Her parents are being told they can’t expect all the health-care workers who come to their home to provide her with vital services to be vaccinated.

They’ve been told they shouldn’t even ask the question. Management of the health-care agency certainly won’t say. After all, it says, it needs to “ensure we are protecting the personal health information of our employees.”

It won’t honour the family’s request that only vaccinated workers be sent to care for Gavi, who uses a ventilator at night to help her breathe and is at heightened risk from COVID-19.

This isn’t a tale of just one family caught up in some nonsensical bureaucratic nightmare. They are one of many families across Ontario caught at the sharp end of a pandemic clash between privacy and public health principles in home care, long-term-care homes, hospitals and public schools.

Personal medical information has long been protected in Canada, and for good reason. But when it comes to COVID vaccines the balance between protecting personal health information and safeguarding the actual health of people has tipped into bizarre and indefensible territory.

When health-care agencies put “protecting the personal health information of our employees” ahead of protecting the safety and lives of those they are duty-bound and paid to care for, they’ve lost the plot.

Families should not be left to argue this obvious point with health-care providers. This is the government’s job and it has been failing spectacularly at it.

To date, no government in Canada has made COVID vaccines mandatory for health-care workers. That needs to change.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford should take the lead on this, rather than dragging his feet and spouting nonsense about the “constitutional right” to opt out of vaccinations.

Many health-care settings like hospitals and care homes have long required staff to get various vaccines in order to keep their jobs. There’s no reason to treat the COVID shot any differently.

Increasingly contagious variants are colliding with a stalled vaccine take-up and it’s leaving us all at risk of a fourth wave. It’s time to do more than simply ask health-care workers to do the right thing and roll up their sleeves.

That’s what medical leaders are saying. The politicians should listen — and act.

This past week, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association called for mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers to “protect patients, the health workforce and health care system capacity.”

“As health providers, we have a fundamental duty of care towards our patients and the public,” said CMA president Dr. Ann Collins.

That’s such a basic notion that it’s a sign of how far off the rails things have gone that it stands out as notable.

Three weeks ago, the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario said something similar. “Nurses stand with science and for patients,” the nurses’ group said.

Again, common sense. Or at least it was before the pandemic.

Ontario shut down most aspects of life for months on end to protect seniors, adults and children from the coronavirus and keep the health-care system from collapsing.

Now that we have more than enough vaccines to go round, it makes no sense to continue putting vulnerable people at heightened risk by refusing to mandate the jab for health-care workers.

This is not a hard sell to most Canadians. In fact, recent opinion polling found three-quarters of them say vaccines should be mandatory for health-care workers.

It’s our politicians who are behind.

A few, though, are starting to move.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is considering making vaccination mandatory for federal employees and in federally regulated industries like transportation and banking. Quebec announced it plans to introduce a vaccine passport system that may deny unvaccinated people access to some spaces such as sports venues of theatres.

Soon, then, we could see federal tax officials or movie-goers in Quebec needing the jab to go about their work and pleasure.

Will Ford still be talking about “constitutional rights” and the “choice” of health-care workers to care for the most vulnerable without receiving a COVID shot?

Will our health-care agencies still be talking about protecting personal health information over patient safety?

As we’ve said before, health-care workers who fail to get their shots are putting their patients and everyone else at risk. Our collective right to safety trumps their right to refuse vaccines.

It’s time to mandate COVID vaccines for health workers.

Article originally published by the Toronto Star on August 6, 2021 by the Star Editorial Board. Photo credit to Toronto Star.