RNAO welcomes expansion of boosters and says Omicron is the #VaccineInjusticeVariant

Toronto, Dec. 3, 2021. The Ontario government’s move to expand eligibility for the COVID-19 booster dose comes at a critical time in the fight against the virus. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) says it is imperative that individuals 50 and up get the added protection they need in the face of a new variant (Omicron) and the start of winter.

“The reality is that all Ontarians will eventually need a third dose. And, it is crucial that all health-care workers including nurses be fully vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones and Ontarians as they continue to engage in the vaccination rollout, care for those who are sick with the virus and patients with other health needs. The functioning of our entire health system is at stake. This virus knows no boundaries so we need to act on all fronts,” says Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO’s CEO.

“We are at a critical juncture in the pandemic. The virus first emerged in Ontario in January 2020 and here we are in December 2021, still in the deep end of the pandemic. Nurses are exhausted and should not have to worry about whether their colleagues are vaccinated,” says Grinspun. “The government’s failure to act on our advice to mandate vaccination for all health-care workers in all sectors has left many hospitals and home-care agencies with the difficult decision to suspend or terminate desperately needed health providers in a bid to protect staff and patients. We implore the government to make vaccination mandatory,” insists Grinspun.   

With another winter approaching, the government must urgently address the crisis in nursing human resources. As RNAO wrote in a letter to Premier Doug Ford, the government must take action to “repair the damage and help rebuild the nursing profession. For the sake of Ontarians you must repeal Bill 124. We are calling once again for your immediate action.” This, as RNs continue to leave Ontario for other jurisdictions that offer better opportunities.

Since Omicron’s transmissibility and the severity of illness it causes is still to be determined, RNAO says individuals must continue to exercise careful caution by following all public health guidelines, getting vaccinated and signing up for their booster dose as soon as they are eligible.

RNAO is pleased that children between the ages of 5 and 11 are getting their first shots of the vaccine. However, the association says it is gravely concerning that many teachers remain on the job unvaccinated. According to the figures released by the Toronto District School Board this week, more than 900 teachers who are seeking vaccine exemptions continue to interact with students. “Submitting to regular testing is not the same as being vaccinated. Testing is surveillance. Being fully vaccinated offers an extra layer of protection. That’s why RNAO remains steadfast in its plea that the government also mandate that all teachers and education workers be subject to mandatory vaccination,” says RNAO President Morgan Hoffarth.

Given that the pandemic has turned a new corner with Omicron, RNAO says it is important that all Ontarians who have yet to receive their first or second vaccination do so as soon as possible. “The pandemic is taxing Ontarians, including nurses’ energies to an extreme. The demands on our system are due in large part to people who are not heeding expert advice. The best protection is by rolling up their sleeves,” says Hoffarth.

Grinspun says that “the emergence of the Omicron variant is the result of global vaccine inequity. The only way to stop the virus from mutating is to stop it running rampant among unvaccinated populations in poor and vulnerable countries.” As the World Health Organization’s Director General warned, “if there’s one thing we have learned, it’s that no region, no country, no community and no individual is safe until we are all safe…More than 80 per cent of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6 per cent of all vaccines.” Grinspun adds “That’s why RNAO is labeling the Omicron variant as the #VaccineInjusticeVariant. If there is no vaccine equity, there is no health for all.”

This failure to provide even first shots to health providers and the population at large in numerous countries around the world must change. Hoffarth says that “at this stage of the pandemic, we have the technological, logistical and economic capacity to provide COVID-19 vaccines universally. What we lack is the political will.” It is imperative that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stay true to his word that where you live should not determine whether you live. “Canada must do its part to help countries with lower rates of vaccination or those that do not have ready access to vaccines. They must be made available to everyone around the world because until everyone is vaccinated, we are all under threat from this insidious virus and its variants,” adds Hoffarth.