Vax policy for new City of Hamilton employees survives by 1 vote
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Published February 1, 2023 at 9:46 p.m
Coun did not support voting arithmetic. The science of Esther Pauls, and with it the City of Hamilton’s “outdated” vaccination policy, will remain in place for at least a week.
On the eve of Groundhog Day, Hamilton’s only active councillor, who last year voted against mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for council employees, pushed for the policy, which now only applies to new hires, to be repealed in all but three areas (Paramedics, long-term care homes and a municipal day care center). The Ward 7 representative’s motion was defeated 8-7 after debate at the General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting today (February 1). A follow-up vote that could reverse the result will be held at the February 8 council meeting.
The city’s universal policy was paused last September. New employees only need to show proof of two doses instead of a regular vaccination when new variants of COVID-19 emerge.
The city’s chief human resources director, Lora Fontana, told an Info report that since 2021, only five job offers have been withdrawn due to insufficient vaccination. In that time, the city has added 2,100 newcomers to its workforce and rehired 800 others — or a retention rate of about 99.83 percent.
“Holding another outdated standard for new hires is not right,” Pauls said during her presentation. “We also have staff shortages in various areas of the City of Hamilton. Maintaining this outdated policy creates unnecessary barriers to hiring the best people for the job. My guess is that Executive Director Fontana’s report indicates that only five job offers have been withdrawn. This does not account for the hundreds of potential applicants that are eliminated from the pool.
“I know it may not be detrimental to the city today, but the candidate pool may continue to shrink as other cities move on and do better.”
Pauls later said it was important to separate politics from public health advice – which recommends getting boosters and masking yourself in public spaces. She claimed she could not transmit COVID-19 to anyone else.
The Ontario government recommends continuing to get vaccinated. The Mayo Clinic, the US Centers for Disease Control and other scientific sites are warning the public that vaccinated individuals with “breakthrough infections” are merely less likely than an unvaccinated individual to transmit COVID-19 to others, rather than being completely safe from doing so.
“Let’s not confuse a city policy with public health, and that’s what we do,” she said. “We do that. You may have your opinion on the vaccine, that’s great, but so do other people. Let me tell you a truth – I’ve only been vaccinated twice. You know why? Because I’m healthy. I don’t think I could pass COVID-19 on to the council members next to me. And that’s what we’re talking about.
“…We’re talking about if I’m not vaccinated, if I don’t get my booster shot, if I don’t keep doing it, maybe I’ll pass it on,” Pauls added. “And that’s wrong.”
Mayor Andrea Horwath, who suggested she could make a future request to update the guidelines, and Couns. Maureen Wilson (1), Cameron Kroetsch (2), Nrinder Nann (3), John-Paul Danko (8), Craig Cassar (12), Alex Wilson (13) and Ted McMeekin (15) voted collectively against the motion.
“COVID is underway,” the mayor said. “We have observed how it has changed over the years. We don’t know what’s next… The virus is still among us and we’re still struggling with it. I think sending a message that this is all said and done is really problematic for me.”
Pauls was supported by Couns. Tammy Hwang (4), Matt Francis (5), Tom Jackson (6), Jeff Beattie (11), Mark Tadeson (12), and Mike Spadafora (14; he was also second). district 9 district. Brad Clark was not present at the meeting.
Hamilton maintained mandatory vaccination for city employees longer than most similar Ontario cities. The healthcare industry is a major local employer and there is a wide disparity in health outcomes between the city’s poorest and most affluent neighborhoods.
Ontario began rolling back the province’s COVID-19 health protection measures last March, before Premier Doug Ford and his Ontario PC Party began their re-election campaign. The federal government, which takes care of the protection of its own employees and in mass transport (planes and trains), also began to reduce it.
Can get on a plane but not pick up trash?
This has led to contradictions in everyday life.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Francis said. “I can fly anywhere in Canada without a vaccination, but god forbid I come down here and pick up garbage as a city worker? The science doesn’t support the current policy (City of Hamilton), so I support the message and the science and vote to overturn it.”
Councilors on both sides of the vote said the policy was outdated.
“This is a collective situation and is fraught with contradictions at all levels of government, within Canada and around the world,” said Alex Wilson. “We need to have a whole toolbox-wide conversation and not get rid of a tool.
“Regardless of how we vote, we need to evolve this tool,” they added. “Do we have this information in front of us? That remains unanswered. I look forward to when we do that and I look forward to this conversation because it will keep coming up.”
Beattie gave the example of an employee with a pre-pandemic start date who didn’t get two doses – and is back at work – and a recent employee who only had two doses.
“I believe in science and I will continue to follow that science,” he said. “What’s the difference between these two people working side by side and what’s the advantage over the next 10, 20, 25 years?
“I’m having trouble coming up with it. We know it’s still evolving. There’s a reason this was originally done. I’m not sure if it’s holding up and I think now is a good time to check it out again.”
Maureen Wilson added it was “incongruent” that vaccines would remain mandatory for paramedics, care home workers and Red Hill Child Care Center staff, but not others.
“If you want it lifted, lean all the way in,” she said.
Danko agreed with Pauls that the policy is outdated. Much like Beattie and Alex Wilson, he underscored the need to rethink politics.
“I see the point that with only two vaccines (required), it’s obsolete,” Danko said. “However, we should update the policy. If that’s really your argument that these policies are no longer effective, then let’s make them boosters. But that is not what is on the table before us. We went straight to eliminating the policy and that is disingenuous.”
Around 500 municipal employees were furloughed last year for not being vaccinated or for not disclosing their status. The vote to create the policy was 12-2 in favour, with only Pauls and former Ward 14 councilor Terry Whitehead opposed.
Pauls claimed at the time that the directive should have come from the Ford government.
On Wednesday, Wilson noted that the province’s stance on regional approaches to COVID-19 protection has changed over the past three years. She characterized each move in Hamilton as a way to regain the autonomy Ford offered at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
A vote to suspend the policy fell 6-6 in May, so it lasted through the summer.
Currently, COVID-19 activity in Hamilton is considered “moderate and decreasing”.
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