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Veronica and Ted, residents of Revera wearing masks

Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers

The time for a vaccine mandate for health care workers is now.
By Tom Wellner
Over the course of the last several weeks and months, a debate has emerged as to the necessity and appropriateness of implementing vaccine “mandates.” Several provincial governments have taken steps in this direction.

As a leader in the health care industry, my view is that vaccines should be mandatory for staff in organizations who are entrusted with serving vulnerable populations, especially those in health care and seniors living organizations.

My conviction is founded in my bedrock belief in science, which overwhelmingly supports the safety and efficacy of vaccines in protecting residents, families, and staff in long-term care homes and retirement residences as well as patients and staff in acute care settings from the most severe outcomes associated with COVID-19.
As a leader in the health care industry, my view is that vaccines should be mandatory for staff in organizations who are entrusted with serving vulnerable populations, especially those in health care and seniors living organizations.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected seniors, immunocompromised people, and those who have served heroically on the front lines to care for them. We have seen first-hand the miraculous impact of vaccines, which have substantially stopped COVID-19 transmission and death in long term care and other senior congregate living settings.

The science is irrefutable, and yet we are seemingly stuck in an endless public policy debate on how to protect the rights of a small minority of Canadians. Those who have declined vaccination for non-medical reasons are putting the health and safety of us all, and our broader recovery, at risk. One must look no further than to south of the border, or to the Okanagan Valley in B.C., where a resurgence of COVID-19 is taking hold as a result of the Delta variant. The simple reality is, those who are not yet vaccinated are both driving the resurgence and suffering from the worst outcomes while impacting us all.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians don’t view this issue through the lens of personal rights and freedoms, or the Charter of Rights. They view it through the lens of fairness, decency, and common sense. I view this issue not only from my perspective as President and CEO of Revera but also as a son whose mom and dad live in a Revera retirement home.

This is why, in July, Revera implemented a vaccine policy requiring existing staff members to be vaccinated, or, if they declined, to be required to undergo COVID-19 testing each time they arrive at work. New employees must be vaccinated as a condition of employment. In a health care industry where organizations look to governments to make these kinds of mandates universal, we were the first operator to do this, and we want others in our sector to be able to follow our lead and help keep everyone safe.

Since December, we have offered paid time for staff to travel to and from vaccination clinics, encouraged local or provincial public health authorities to provide on-site staff vaccine clinics or hosted them ourselves. We have provided extensive education and culturally-specific support to staff to build confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines. The results have led to an overwhelming majority of our caregivers choosing to be vaccinated, but still some hesitancy remains.

The time for decisive action is now. Let’s do away with the seemingly academic exercise of what constitutes “herd” immunity. The only practical answer for those in health and seniors care is 100 per cent of eligible staff.

I would encourage all provincial governments to help health care organizations and the people for whom they care by mandating that all workers in the sector be vaccinated against the most virulent virus in living memory. A virus that has infected more than 200 million people worldwide and killed millions. This small effort would provide the necessary framework to protect our social care infrastructure and allow us to continue the progress we are making together in returning to our new normal.

The time for a vaccine mandate for health care workers is now.

Tom Wellner
By Tom Wellner
Tom Wellner is President and CEO of Revera. He has led Revera since 2014 and has guided its strategic direction to grow, innovate and lead in the sector. He has a passion for innovative solutions to complex problems and believes that innovation is key to designing a better aging experience.