Norfolk council is torn on whether it needs to adopt a COVID-19 vaccine policy for county staff.
On the one hand, many municipalities are taking a hard line on vaccines despite the threat of non-compliance and the resignation or firing of key personnel.
On the other, some on Norfolk council say current pandemic policies are working and there is no need to provoke staff when there are fewer than two dozen active cases of COVID-19 in all of Haldimand and Norfolk.
“I can’t support this at this time, and certainly not without additional data – actual, concrete data that this has been built on,” said Mayor Kristal Chopp, who also serves as chair of Norfolk and Haldimand’s board of health.
“I think we’re basing this on other municipalities having passed similar policies. But again – what is the data they are using? And if the province wanted this, the province should be doing this equally across all municipalities.”
The draft policy would require all employees, elected officials, board and committee appointees, volunteer firefighters, student employees and volunteers to disclose their vaccination status by Nov. 1.
The draft policy does not affect county employees at the Norview Lodge long-term care home in Simcoe or with Norfolk paramedic services as the province has already imposed mandatory vaccinations on these workers due to the high-risk environments they work in.
As of Dec. 6, county workers, appointees and volunteers captured in the draft policy would have to prove they are double vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to rapid antigen testing once or twice a week, depending on how many hours they log. Securing test results would be the responsibility of unvaccinated workers, as would the cost.
Those on council in favour of mandatory vaccines agree with staff that inoculation is another safeguard to go along with mandatory masks, social distancing, frequent hand-washing and the regular sanitizing of common surfaces.
Chopp said she is concerned about the proposed policy because vaccinations are proving to be hit-and-miss when it comes to fending off COVID-19. The mayor noted that the double-vaccinated can still get sick from the coronavirus and spread it to others.
In counterpoint, Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin said data indicate that vaccines lessen the severity of COVID symptoms, while reducing the duration of sickness and transmissibility.
“It’s about a trickle effect,” Martin said. “The person vaccinated has a higher ability of fighting off COVID and therefore a lesser ability of sharing COVID. That data is well known. It’s just another tool in the tool box.”
Council members opposed to a vaccine mandate at this time warn of peer pressure arising from other municipalities taking a hard line on inoculations. Haldimand County – one half of the local health district – recently adopted a mandatory policy similar to what Norfolk staff has suggested.
If a mandatory vaccine policy were in order, Charlotteville Coun. Chris VanPaassen said the Ford government should show leadership and impose one.
“Again – if you’ve been vaccinated twice – you can still get COVID; you can still spread COVID,” VanPaassen said. “We followed all the rules. We survived for the past 18 months. I just don’t know why we need to do this.”
Council tied on the proposed policy in a 4-4 vote. Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman had other commitments and was unable to participate.
The Oct. 12 session was a committee meeting. Council directed staff to gather data to support the need for a vaccine policy and present it at this week’s regular meeting. A second discussion and vote on the matter is expected at that time.