Ontario’s crackdown on medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccine appears to be working
Ontario’s new rules requiring a review of medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines appear to limit the number of people granted exemption from vaccination mandates.
Research by CBC News reveals that 209 medical exemptions have been approved across the province since a new requirement that they must be checked by public health units took effect earlier this month.
This figure indicates that less than one in 50,000 Ontario adults have a valid medical exemption.
Some employers in the province have said much higher proportions of their staff have requested medical exemptions from their workplace vaccination mandates, a trend that has raised alarm among Ontario health leaders.
The ministry did not provide the requested breakdown of the number of exemptions submitted and approved by each public health unit. However, three of the province’s largest public health units provided their own numbers to CBC News:
- Toronto: 65 medical exemption requests submitted; 40 accepted.
- York Region: 22 requests; 15 accepted.
- Ottawa: 18 applications; four accepted.
Ottawa Public Health said it has denied 11 requests and three are still pending. Other public health units did not report the status of unapproved applications.
The relatively low number of approvals suggests that the province’s new verification process is having an impact on eliminating illegitimate medical exemptions.
“These numbers are very reassuring,” said Dr. Fahad Razak, an internal medicine physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Table.
“The real concern was that exemptions were being granted for reasons that were not medically indicated widely enough in the province prior to this stage.”
QR code required
A doctor’s note claiming an exemption is no longer sufficient to enter places where Ontario requires proof of vaccination. Instead, people with medical exemptions must now show a digital QR code that can be scanned by the Verify Ontario app.
The measure was announcement in December and came into effect on January 4 as part of Ontario’s response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.
However, enforcement won’t really start until next Monday when restaurants and bars reopen for limited-capacity indoor service, along with gyms, cinemas and other venues, after nearly four weeks of closures.
To obtain a QR code, each person who wants a medical exemption must have their doctor submit documents to local public health units for review. If the exemption request is accepted, the public health unit enters the information into the province’s COVAxON database. The person can then download the QR code from Ontario Vaccination Proof Website.
Department of Health officials told CBC News that 209 medical exemptions had been entered into the database.
“The process is working”
“We are very pleased that given the limited number of valid medical exemptions issued to date, the process is working,” Alexandra Hilkene, spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott, said in an email.
Audits help verify the legitimacy of medical exemptions, said Dr. David Fisman, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“It seems to be working really well,” Fisman said in an interview.
He said doctors are likely to be particularly careful when granting an exemption, knowing that it is subject to review by public health officials.
“Once [doctors] actually have to bounce that off a third, it’s fascinating that the numbers drop the way they do,” Fisman said.
Last fall, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, expressed concern that medical exemptions were being requested far more frequently than warranted, by up to 2% of staff in some work places.
Moore said no more than one in 20,000 people would have one of the few conditions that would qualify someone for a medical exemption under Ontario rules.
“There are very few actual contraindications to COVID-19 vaccines authorized by Health Canada that could be considered medical exemptions,” the provincial official said. advice to physicians, updated January 12.
Report by the Toronto Star last october show About one in 475 school board staff across the province cited medical reasons for not complying with mandatory vaccination policies.
In mid-January, a Freedom of Information request from CBC News revealed that the City of London had granted medical exemptions to 14 of its city employees, which equates to around one in every 200 city employees. The municipality also granted more than 100 exemptions on what it called human rights grounds.
Doctors have warned against issuing illegitimate exemptions
While people with medical exemptions will need to present their QR codes to enter places such as bars and restaurants in Ontario, the government has so far not told employers under vaccination mandates that their employees should do the same.
The agency that regulates doctors in the province has warned its members against issuing illegitimate medical exemptions.
“If your patient asks you to provide information to support a medical exemption from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, your patient must have a legitimate medical condition that would warrant an exemption,” said the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in a list of pandemic FAQs on its website.
Ontario’s vaccine passport system is currently in place for an indefinite period.
When Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s six-week timeline for easing the current slew of public health restrictions, he didn’t say when the proof of vaccination rules would end. In October, he had set January 17 as the date for lifting the measure.