Fewer than 1,300 city employees face suspension or dismissal after Mayor John Tory decided to delay a deadline to vaccinate children for three more weeks, municipal officials said on Sunday.
John Tory issued the directive on Friday.
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He said he would intervene “in the strongest possible way” if the Health Department failed to meet a 60-day deadline, having conceded last week that concerns about consent forms, difficulty filling them out and insufficient measles immunization rates were to blame for a spike in cases.
Tory said seven individuals had called in sick, out of 1,326, while more than 100 had declined to accept his offer of an “unconditional vaccination”.
“This is unprecedented in terms of the number of calls I’ve gotten,” Tory said. “This is not something we would have expected to have come to us.”
Because the vaccine requirement for elementary school students requires a copy of a medical, dental or mental health assessment, officials said they did not expect them to move with the pace of the letter flow.
Tory said he was told to cut the scheduled 60-day deadline to 30 days in an “independent report” completed by a “highly qualified company”.
“This is not the least bit about politics,” he said. “This is about doing what’s best for Toronto and making sure that we, as a city, are doing everything we can to protect the health and safety of our kids.”
Tory’s stated intent was to immediately keep vaccination rates above 95%, the benchmark that Health Canada uses to establish immunization objectives.
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But what if not all parents completed vaccination forms? Tory said everyone who doesn’t comply risks disciplinary action, including termination of employment, and that staff facing that scenario “may very well resign”.
These were not the people you would want to be firing for immunization, he added. “Every one of them has behaved with professionalism and the spirit of what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Tory said he was comfortable with the chief medical officer’s investigation into the vaccine-evasion problem, and would “push forward” with some changes the director of health services suggested after a visit to the city on Friday.
One change was to verify identities using state-of-the-art technology that allows health staff to check birth certificates and social security numbers.
The other was to create trust among health staff. “To do that we have to do a better job at getting this information from parents,” he said.
John Baird, the former environment minister of Canada, said Tory was playing politics with an important issue.
John Baird (@Baird) “Glad @ToryJohnTory has recognized the unacceptable public health crisis and outlined the next steps – great job. More should be done.”
The former Environment Minister – and then Conservative Party leader – spoke out in the crossfire over New Brunswick’s “no jab, no pay” rule, a measure that withholds pay if an employee refuses to have a needle administered for a vaccination.
Baird said he didn’t oppose vaccinations as “a matter of public health policy. My problem is with municipal interference.”
A policy that’s been used in other places is now “down to political expediency”, he added.
“What John Tory is doing is doing at work. It is not about public health policy and public safety, it is not about public safety and health.”
• This article was amended on 12 November 2018 to reflect the fact that John Tory stated his intent was to cut the deadline in half.