Ontario’s NDP leader backtracked on her opposition to mandatory vaccinations for education workers after mounting criticism became too great on Thursday.
"On Wednesday, I made a mistake suggesting a mandatory vaccine policy during a global pandemic should take a back seat to charter rights," said Andrea Horwath: "I regret the comment. I was wrong."
Despite stating she considered it a charter right to refuse the vaccine, she supports regular rapid virus tests for unvaccinated education workers.
A day later, she issued a video statement to walk back the comments and support mandatory vaccination in health care and education, "based on science and public health priorities." She also said that she supported adding COVID-19 vaccines to the required immunizations for children to attend school.
Dr. Kieran Moore, the province's top doctor, also expects cases to increase in the fall when people return to schools and congregate indoors elsewhere. He is also advocating for children under 12 to be eligible to receive the COVID vaccine.
"I should have made that position clearer," Horwath said, "much earlier in support of the health and safety of the most vulnerable among us: seniors, people with disabilities, people who are sick, and children who can't yet get their vaccines."
In contrast, Premier Doug Ford refused to mandate vaccines for workers. He also said he doesn't support businesses requesting proof of vaccinations as a prerequisite to participate in certain activities. The province’s back-to-school plan doesn't mandate COVID vaccinations for either teachers or students.
Liberal leader Steven Del Duca called for a COVID vaccine mandate for education workers as a back-to-school plan. He also supported a similar mandate for health workers. Before Horwath's reversal, he said that she and Ford tried to appeal to "anti-vax" voters and that he was incredibly disappointed by Horwath’s stance.
Del Duca added: "I don't want anyone to lose their job, but it's the right thing to do."
The Ontario government, school boards and unions representing teachers and education workers said last month that they did not keep data on the vaccination rate among education staff.
The Ontario Hospital Association wrote on Thursday there was a "slow increase in the number of patients with COVID-related critical illness," declaring on Twitter that "there will undoubtedly be a fourth wave among unvaccinated Ontarians."
"The OHA is urging all eligible residents to receive both COVID shots as soon as they can to help ensure that access to non-COVID-related hospital services is not disrupted a further time," said the association. "The pandemic is ending, but the fourth wave could inflict a deadly toll."
According to Public Health Ontario, unvaccinated people were eight times more likely to become infected with COVID-19 than fully vaccinated people since the end of June. Also, unvaccinated seniors were 15 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who are fully vaccinated.
Ontario reported 213 COVID-19 cases and two deaths on Thursday. There are 110 patients in intensive care with COVID-related symptoms, 77 of whom are on ventilators.
Eighty-one percent of adults in Ontario have at least one COVID vaccine dose, and 72 percent are fully vaccinated.
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