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Letter to Ministers re. vaccination rollout for Health Care Workers

COVID-19
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OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the following letter today regarding the province’s vaccination rollout plan for Health Care Workers to Christine Elliott, Minister of Health and Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care.

January 8, 2021

Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
College Park, 5th Floor
777 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M7A 2J3

Hon. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care
400 University Ave, 6th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 1T7

Dear Ministers,

I am writing to you on behalf of 170,000 OPSEU/SEFPO members in regards to the COVID-19 vaccination rollout for Ontario’s Health Care Workers.

As you know, our members work in sectors across the Ontario Public Service, the Broader Public Service, and on the front lines of the current health care crisis. Listening to their ideas can greatly ensure a successful rollout.

By working together, we can get this right – and we must – because there is no room for errors. As such, we kindly request that the Ontario government:

  • Consult OPSEU/SEFPO in decisions pertaining to Ontario’s vaccination plan rollout
  • Communicate new information and updates in a timely fashion so that our members – and all front-line health care workers – are supported in making informed decisions about getting vaccinated
  • Provide all front-line health care workers with the resources and support they need

With Ontario’s vaccine distribution plan underway, we understand the need to prioritize the vaccination of certain health care workers as part of the initial round of limited doses available. We understand that this vaccination effort is a massive undertaking, and there are bound to be some road bumps along the way.

However, we do firmly believe that improved communication is crucial to the success of Ontario’s vaccination plan.

To-date, very few workers have received their vaccination. We need to move swiftly to ensure that all front-line staff are covered as quickly as possible. As a union representing many of these workers, OPSEU/SEFPO will have a crucial role to play in encouraging our members to voluntary receive the vaccine – through education and communication.

OPSEU/SEFPO can support the province’s vaccination effort, but we also must be part of the conversation on how this rollout is implemented. Our hardworking front-line heroes deserve that respect. It’s vital they know that their valuable input matters and that a rollout timeline has been developed in their best interest.

These front-line workers are in the crosshairs of the crisis. They put themselves in the line of fire every day to protect the health and safety of the people of Ontario. If we want to get to the other side of this crisis, we know these workers are at the epicentre of the solution too. We know that voluntary vaccine uptake is crucial among health care workers.

And all front-line health care workers are much more likely to get vaccinated if they have the resources and support they need – such as vaccination locations at their worksites. If workers must travel to receive their vaccination, their travel time and expenses should be paid.

We also know that some people will experience temporary side effects from the vaccine. We cannot allow this to be a barrier to vaccine uptake. The government must ensure that all front-line workers have access to paid sick leave in these circumstances. For those who have not yet been vaccinated due to availability issues, there must be paid sick/self-isolation leave to prevent further outbreaks.

We understand that there still exist many unknowns and that specific details about the rollout timeline are evolving. Nonetheless, there is room for improvement; improved consultation, communication and the provision of resources and support for our front-line health care heroes.

I would welcome a chance to discuss this matter with you further.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, OPSEU/SEFPO