Niagara Health is pumping the brakes on its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination program for staff because of the Omicron variant, according to a press release on Thursday. 

Niagara Health’s executive team says it decided to “pause implementation of the program” due to the intensity of the fifth wave and the urgent need for staff. 

They took care to stress that the policy has not been reversed.

“We remain committed to a fully vaccinated workforce at our hospital, and we will proceed with the implementation at a later time to be determined,” said Niagara Health president and CEO Lynn Guerriero.

Unvaccinated health care workers at Niagara Health will be required to participate in regular rapid antigen testing, and its occupational health and safety team will be “working with them.” 

According to the press release, staff will be required to complete screening before every shift and follow infection prevention and control protocols. 

Niagara Health’s mandatory vaccine policy was set to be enacted on Jan. 27. 

The health authority has not reported any job losses because of the mandatory vaccine policy. 

Niagara Health also runs a long-term care home in Welland, Ont., which has followed the mandatory vaccine order from the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care. Four staff at the home have reportedly been terminated for noncompliance. 

“Mandating full vaccination is in the best interest of our hospital and community,” said Guerriero in October. “It is the natural next step to protect our people, patients and operations against the threat of COVID-19.”

At the time of this announcement, 92.8% of Niagara Health staff had reportedly been fully vaccinated. 

True North estimates that about 10,000 unvaccinated health care workers across Canada have been placed on unpaid leave or terminated by health authorities as of Dec. 16. This number comes from official provincial government data and media reports over the past few months. 

Ontario has not implemented a mandatory vaccine policy for hospitals, leaving individual facilities to adopt their own plans. However, long-term care homes have required their staff to be vaccinated. 

Ontario reports that 1,665 health care workers have been removed from their positions for not complying with mandatory vaccination policies. 

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