'We owe it to these workers to ensure that vaccines are available'
SEIU Healthcare is calling on the Ontario government to speed up vaccination of essential frontline workers across the entire healthcare system.
- Staff, essential caregivers and other employees of congregate living settings (e.g., long-term care homes and retirement homes) that provide care for seniors as they are at higher risk of infection and serious illness from COVID-19; and
- Health care workers, including hospital employees, other staff who work or study in hospitals, and other health care personnel.
However, the union claims that the current vaccine roll-out in the province is failing due to a lack of transparency, poor communication to frontline providers and insufficient supports for those seeking vaccinations. The union’s frontline members also continue to report that financial and logistical barriers are preventing them from getting vaccinated.
“Many healthcare workers still don't know when they are due to be vaccinated, where vaccination will take place, and which vaccine will be offered. Healthcare workers are concerned that they will have to take unpaid time off work to get vaccinated at a time when they're struggling to pay their bills,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare.
“Precariously employed healthcare workers need to know that if they experience side effects from the vaccine, they'll receive ample paid sick leave to recover at home. Combined, these issues are creating significant barriers to vaccination that must be addressed immediately.”
SEIU Healthcare is calling on the Ontario government to immediately implement the following steps to ensure that frontline workers, and those they serve, are protected by vaccination:
- Release a detailed vaccine roll-out schedule that lets essential frontline workers know in advance when and where they can access the various COVID-19 vaccines;
- Distribute clear multi-lingual communications to inform frontline workers about the vaccination process;
- Provide targeted financial assistance that supports those who request time to consult with their physician about the vaccine, as well as financial assistance for those who require time off work to travel to and from a vaccination site;
- Ensure ample paid sick leave for those workers who experience side effects from either dose of the vaccination which prevent them from working.
“Frontline workers have given everything to their communities through this battle with COVID-19. Many have gotten sick. Some have lost their lives. We owe it to these workers – and the people they care for every day – to ensure that vaccines are available and that the barriers that could imperil the vaccination effort are eliminated. Government must act now,” said Stewart.
The government has also not been responding to SEIU Healthcare concerns regarding vaccination for frontline healthcare workers, according to the union.
On December 24, 2020, SEIU Healthcare, together with other unions in the healthcare sector and the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), sent a request to the provincial government to fund paid sick leave related to the vaccination for all staff in our hospitals. They received no reply.
On December 29, 2020, SEIU Healthcare, together with AdvantAge Ontario and the OLTCA, sent a similar request to the provincial government to fund paid sick leave related to the vaccination for all staff in the nursing home sector. Again, no reply.
In December, researchers from the University of Windsor, ON, and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions in Toronto, published a paper highlighting the multitude of issues healthcare workers have faced, and the risks they have encountered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include:
- Higher infection rates compared to the general public.
- A worldwide shortage of N95 (and other) respirators.
- Increased mental health concerns such as anxiety, exhaustion and burnout due to risk exposure and a bigger workload.
On Jan 4., CTV News reported that an Ontario biostatician criticized the speed at which the government is administering the vaccines.
“Ontario is not doing too well with the vaccine rollout,” Ryan Imgrund told CTV News. “When it comes to the number of individuals vaccinated per 100,000 people, we are dead last amongst all of the provinces. It's extremely frustrating. We have 78,000 long-term care facility residents here in Ontario. We have 146,000 vaccines and we have had those vaccines for quite some time.”
“It is unacceptable to have vaccines for this long, know that they were coming, know what their storage requirements are and yet still we're sitting on them.”
The vaccine approved for use in Ontario requires two doses, administered a few weeks apart.
As of Jan. 11, the government said it has administered 122,105 doses in total. It has been administering 8,859 doses daily and has completed 5,884 total vaccinations.