This week in education: Toronto is mandating kindergarten vaccinations, and other stories from city employees

My coverage: I spoke to the city’s public health director about “transparent” labelling

0.8% of city employees could be impacted by childcare initiative

There may be legal action ahead

Read the full story here.

A stronger vaccination mandate — mandating kindergarteners get shots before moving to school — was supposed to be implemented this week.

But a doctor on the front lines of the province’s new immunization policy says she’s been contacted by just a handful of city workers who may be forced to miss work.

Rachel Lewis, Toronto’s director of public health, told my colleague Sarah Homsy there could be a small number of doctors and medical providers who have been contacted about the new rules — and the children’s parents.

The Toronto Sun confirmed Tuesday that 33 city workers have been told they could be out of work next week.

Ontario’s government has implemented a mandate requiring kindergarten students to be vaccinated or missed out on a full-day education.

However, Lewis said only one doctor has informed her that he may have to cancel or put off seeing clients next week.

“One doctor. That’s all,” she said.

“Our testing found that half of the families said yes, their child needs at least one dose,” she added.

“That doesn’t mean half the kids need every shot. It just means that half of the children need one or more.”

The Polio Task Force expects more than 98% of kindergarten students will meet the mandatory test but Lewis said she and her team have been flooded with calls from parents who believe their children’s shots were not administered correctly.

She said although she cannot “lie to the parents” about something that may be a simple case of inadequate testing, some parents still don’t believe her when she makes her case.

“We do not, as a government, lie to the parents,” she said.

A spokesman for Toronto’s small and mid-sized businesses federation, which includes hundreds of businesses, believes most other employers have opted not to take the chance that their employees may miss work next week.

“The good news is that, most of the business groups that we’ve had in our meetings are pretty respectful of what the Canadian government has done. They don’t want their employees to be placed in a situation where they may be on the hook for that type of situation,” said Kevin Bailey, vice-president of corporate services with the OPSEU, which represents thousands of city employees.

“It’s going to come down to what a business does: do they want to accommodate their employees who need to be protected and to try to work with the employer to make sure their employees get their shot, or would they rather sit there and just take the risk?”

He called the ban an effective tool to help control what he called the “outbreak of dangerous” diseases.

“There’s no doubt that if it were not for the initiative of a disease like mumps, measles and pertussis, we’d be in much worse shape.”

But while municipalities might have joined the state of New York in deciding to put the pedal to the metal on immunization, Lewis said she thinks the decision is “fairly balanced” between parents and employees.

“We know there will be people who need to be home to care for them. The majority of the population that will be impacted is the parents of children who’ve gone through their immunization,” she said.

“If our communities are strong, our health systems are strong, they’ll get the children vaccinated.”

Lewis said the Bill 135 (Infant Immunization for Public Health Act) was pushed through the Ontario legislature because “it’s a good way of facilitating the vast majority of parents to vaccinate their children.”

The government said more than 70% of kindergarteners are vaccinated, which Bailey believes is “pretty decent.”

“It’s up to every parent to make a decision,” he said.

“They are the ones that need to decide.”

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