Vaccine clinics for students will be set up in schools across Ontario when they re-open Sept. 9. CNS photo/David ‘Dee’ Delgado, Reuters

Ontario schools navigate vaccine landscape

By 
  • August 29, 2021

The Government of Ontario has not tipped its hand yet if it will institute mandatory vaccinations for teachers and staff, but education unions are trying to persuade Premier Doug Ford to make that choice.

In a mid-August joint statement, the four provincial teachers’ unions, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), called for mandatory vaccinations in the education sector.

The core paragraph of the detailed release read: “Ontario’s education unions representing teachers, education support workers and other school staff support mandatory vaccinations in schools. To provide the greatest level of protection to Ontario’s students and communities, we believe that everyone working in or attending a school, who is eligible and can be safely vaccinated, should be vaccinated.”

The unions also stated that educators who are “unable to be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons” should not be disadvantaged while also stipulating that staff who make that choice will need to take proper safety precautions like undergoing regular testing, wearing PPE and practising social distancing.

While the province has not mandated vaccines, it is collaborating with provincial public health units to roll out vaccination clinics in schools early in the 2021-22 school year. Minister of Education Stephen Lecce is leading the charge on this effort. He’s encouraged with the vaccination rates to date — 69 per cent of Ontario’s 12- to 17-year-olds have one dose and 56 per cent are fully vaccinated as of Aug. 16 — but he wants to keep the momentum going.

“As part of the last mile campaign to reach as many students and staff as possible and to keep schools as safe as possible, we are requiring school boards and public health units to roll out clinics in or close to schools,” said Lecce. “By making vaccines more accessible, and with a cautious reopening in September following the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, we will further bolster our fight against COVID-19 and variants.”

Schools in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and the Durham Catholic District School Board are poised to be among the Catholic institutions hosting clinics in the school year. The start date for the 2021-22 school year is Sept. 9.

In a statement shared with The Catholic Register, OECTA president Barb Dobrowolski does have some planning concerns about the in-school vaccination clinic programs.

“While Catholic teachers strongly support increased vaccine access and improved education and awareness, and would support in-school vaccination clinics, the logistics of any such program would be the responsibility of school boards, working in conjunction with their local public health units,” the statement said.

In addition to vaccine access, Dobrowolski is looking for the Ford government to provide improved ventilation, a solid testing and tracing system and masking for all students and staff among other wishes so “that students can enjoy the benefits of in-person learning without the confusion and chaos of the past school year.”

The question of vaccine consent was addressed in a provincial news release, which stated “COVID-19 vaccines will only be provided if informed consent is received from the individual” if they have the “capability to make this decision.” The government declares “health providers, teachers and parents must respect a young person’s decision regarding vaccination.”

Pope Francis emerged with a fresh pro-vaccine endorsement that aligns with the sentiments expressed by the unions. In a global video address Aug. 18 the Pope said getting a vaccine is an “act of love” and “a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”

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