It’s a rare moment for Toronto to look to a neighboring city for inspiration when it comes to public health practices. The country’s largest city is plenty used to having health officials beat other American cities to become a national leader in eradicating the Zika virus.
But on Friday, Toronto Mayor John Tory’s office issued a public letter saying that staff at the Toronto Police Services headquarters were 99 percent vaccinated against meningococcal disease by the government’s deadline.
In 2015, the city was in the midst of a Meningococcal epidemic. With three deaths from meningococcal disease between Sept. 2016 and Oct. 2017, the provincial government had a 90 percent vaccination goal.
The virus is spread through the respiratory tract and enters the bloodstream. Symptoms may appear eight to 16 days after infection. For those over 10, onset may appear as a delayed concussion.
“To be clear, staff that were working there as of Sept. 18, 2019, were a maximum of 97 per cent fully vaccinated,” the letter said. “As such, staff from that complex are now placed on ‘indefinite unpaid absence.’”
According to Canadian Public Health, meningococcal disease is the most common bacterial meningitis in Canada, killing 23 men in 2017.
“Health officials had decided that in order to meet its commitment to best promote the safety of Canadians, Toronto Police Services headquarters had to comply with the mandate,” a Toronto Police statement said.
Staff put off vaccinations “in order to have the work done,” the statement said. “This resulted in Toronto Police requiring those employees to be placed on unpaid leave.”
As The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein reported, the practice of skipping the government’s vaccination deadline has become common in places including the United States.
“The issue of mandated vaccinations by employers has become a long-running subject in the United States, with mandatory immunizations by high school students regularly being debated in schools and legislatures across the country,” Rein wrote in August.
Karen Vargas, national director of critical medical services at B.C. Children’s Hospital, told The Post that Ontario was historically a model for public health practices. But, she said, “So much has changed over the years that Toronto is going to have to catch up to where they were and more — in terms of getting people to vaccinate.”
The Toronto police department said it would resume providing an immunity rate report on how many employees and executives were adequately vaccinated by Nov. 2.
“Since this is an ongoing situation, any further announcement will be made when a report has been received by the Ministry of Health,” the statement said.