COVID-19: CHEO boss ‘confident’ Ottawa children’s hospital can hit 100% vaccinations among staff

The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario is mandating COVID-19 vaccinations among staff and volunteers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

The CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) says he believes a 100 per cent COVID-19 vaccination rate is achievable at the Ottawa institution, adding he’d like to see schools and child-care centres implement similar universal mandates among their staff.

CHEO, along with Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, announced this week that all three children’s hospitals will implement strict COVID-19 vaccination policies that go beyond the Ontario government’s mandate unveiled on Tuesday.

While the province said high-risk settings such as hospitals will be required to implement vaccination mandates among its staff, the regulation has allowances for those who remain unvaccinated to regularly get tested for COVID-19 before coming in to work.

Read more: Ontario government mandating COVID-19 vaccine policies for high-risk settings

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Global News reached out to The Ottawa Hospital, the Queensway Carleton Hospital and Montfort on Friday, all of which said regular testing with negative results was an acceptable option in their respective vaccine mandates.

No such exception will be made under the new policy from CHEO and its partners, which will make full vaccinations mandatory for all physicians, nurses, staff and volunteers at the hospitals.

Alex Munter, CHEO’s chief executive, tells Global News that the children’s hospital decided to draw a hard line on vaccinations because of their vulnerable clientele.

Some 71 per cent of patients at CHEO are not eligible for vaccination because they’re too young, according to Munter. Ensuring that all staff interacting with sick children are vaccinated is “another layer of protection” that CHEO can provide for families already concerned about their kids, he said.

“If you have a sick child, a child with a disability, who’s coming in for care at CHEO, you have a lot to worry about. This should not be an additional concern,” Munter tells Global News.

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“You shouldn’t also be worried about whether or not the people you’re interacting with at CHEO are vaccinated.”

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The only people excepted from the policy will be those with a “documented medical or human rights exemption,” according to an internal email sent to staff from Munter.

The vaccine requirement will be in place at CHEO starting Sept. 7. After that date, unvaccinated staff will need to regularly present negative tests before their shifts up until Oct. 15, at which point the hospital expects all its staff to be vaccinated. Staff that are not vaccinated will also be expected to complete an education course about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Any new hires at CHEO will also have to verify that they’ve received both doses of the vaccine.

“It’s a condition of employment now,” Munter says.

The hospital boss, who held a virtual town hall with staff on Friday afternoon to discuss the new policy, says there’s been “strong support internally” for the mandate. Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, and her Ontario counterpart, Dr. Kieran Moore, have both expressed their support for the move.

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Already at CHEO, 94 per cent of physicians and 84 per cent of staff are fully vaccinated.

“I feel confident that we will be able to get to 100 per cent,” Munter says.

If there are still staff who are unwilling to get the jab after the Oct. 15 deadline, “all options will be considered to effectively enforce our policy,” Munter wrote in the email to staff.

“If at the end of the day, people are simply not willing to comply, then we will need to look at measures like, for example, unpaid leaves of absence,” he tells Global News.

Munter says a universal vaccine mandate “has a lot of merit” in a variety of settings, but especially in schools, child-care centres and children’s hospitals situations, where kids are at higher risk of being exposed to the virus.

“COVID loves the unvaccinated, and in Ontario, that’s mostly children,” he says.

“Anybody who lives or works around children needs to get vaccinated and environments like children’s hospitals and schools and child-care centres need to be able to assure parents that we have universal vaccinations as one more element of protection.”

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