Vaccination mandate a vital tool at Hamilton Health Sciences
When the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were prioritized for distribution last winter, health care workers were among the earliest recipients in our city. This made sense given that these workers formed the thin green line between the pandemic and an overwhelmed healthcare system.
Since then, about 91% of our staff at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) have been fully vaccinated. This is great progress, but it is necessary to close the remaining gap in order to provide for the safety and protection for our workforce and community. Accordingly, as of November 30, 2021, Hamilton Health Sciences will require all of our staff and physicians to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they have an accepted medical or religious reason not to be.
Vaccination has turned out to be a far more controversial and polarizing topic than many expected. Mandating the vaccination of hospital workers is even more contentious. This is despite the fact that every single worker at HHS has already had to have certain other vaccines administered prior to being hired. Being vaccinated as a condition of employment at HHS is nothing new.
Still, this is not a decision we made easily at HHS. While we know there is a very high degree of consensus amongst the scientific community about the benefits of vaccination, there is less agreement about vaccine mandates. So why are we imposing mandatory vaccination from COVID-19?
For starters, we know vaccine mandates are effective, and we think higher rates of vaccination are necessary for our workforce, our patients, and our community. For patient populations at greater risk (like the immune compromised and the frail elderly population), hospital workers must do everything possible to not be the cause of transmission to patients.
Being vaccinated reduces both the risk of infection from COVID-19, and the risk of severe illness and hospitalization caused by that infection. If you do contract COVID despite being vaccinated, there is a lower risk you will transmit the illness, as compared to someone who has no immunity whatsoever. Sadly, about 90 per cent of the patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at HHS are not vaccinated.
The vaccine is not perfect at preventing COVID infections, and people opposed to vaccine mandates like to point this out. If we had waited for perfect solutions before taking action to fight this pandemic, we would have done nothing. We know that social distancing, personal protective equipment, and handwashing are effective but all have their limitations. We need to employ the tools we have at our disposal.
In combination with these other measures that hospitals have instituted to contain and control the spread of this highly transmissible virus, vaccines are indispensable and among the best tools we now have to fight COVID-19.
We acknowledge there are concerns about the shortages in health human resources across our sector. Being short on staff was an issue for us before the pandemic. An aging population, with more advanced and complex diseases, has meant greater demands on our healthcare system, and fewer new people coming up through the system to provide the needed care. COVID-19 hasn’t helped this situation with its relentless strain on our workers, but the root causes of this shortage are much broader and longer term than the pandemic.
As a consequence, and as you would expect, we will proceed prudently in the weeks ahead as we move to implement this policy. We will not do anything we believe would impair our ability to keep our all our services up and running. And to be clear, we expect our staff and physicians to comply with our policy regarding vaccination.
President & CEO, Hamilton Health Sciences