Employees of 45 of Ontario’s largest school boards offer medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine at an average 42 times higher rate than would be expected in the general population, the province’s top doctor says.
A one-star analysis of vaccination data across these boards found that 521 staff members provided a documented medical reason for not being fully vaccinated, out of a total of 247,335 individuals covered by the board’s vaccination disclosure policies. This works out to a rate of about one in 475 people.
But according to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, the rate of valid medical exemption granted in the province should be between one and five in 100,000, or between 0.005 percent at the high end, based on the actual incidence of adverse reactions to vaccines. Dr. Kieran Moore.
“Actual indications of medical exemption for COVID-19 vaccines are rare,” said Dr. Peter Juni, epidemiologist and scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table. “Compared to what we would expect, these numbers are quite high.”
Juni said he suspects that if we were able to know how much medical exemptions are being granted in the general population, that number would also be higher than the expected one to five in 100,000. He said he believes some doctors and nurse practitioners are discounting too easily.
Publicly funded school board staff in Ontario must provide administrators with proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a documented medical reason why they cannot obtain one. Those who choose not to receive the shot must complete twice-weekly rapid tests and an educational program on the benefits of vaccines. Failure to comply may result in suspension without pay.
There is no vaccination order for education workers in Ontario, so monitoring vaccination rates among staff, and the number of exemptions from receiving vaccines, is a way for boards to evaluate transmission risk in schools, specifically 12 For students under the age of three who live without vaccination. . A recent STAR analysis of vaccination rates across 31 major public school boards found that it is nearly impossible for parents to know teachers’ vaccination rates because the boards do not break down the data by job category.
School board employees in Ontario are not the only employees who must provide their employers with vaccination status; Vaccination disclosure policies also apply to other groups, including hospital workers, home and community care service providers, long-term care workers, and the police.
For example, at the University Health Network, 70 out of 17,100 people expected to be fully vaccinated have applied for a medical exemption, according to spokeswoman Gillian Howard. Two of them were cleared and 12 are awaiting information from experts, she said. The remaining 56 were rejected.
It is not clear whether publicly funded school board employees have the highest rates of providing medical exemptions because all other areas that require vaccination disclosure do not publicly report medical exemption data (Star has been told about this). Had to ask UHN for the number).
And just because someone presents an exception to their employer doesn’t mean they’ll get one. Some boards tell the Star that they look at all exemptions submitted by employees to validate medical reasons.
Any doctor or nurse practitioner in good standing with their respective colleges can write a letter explaining why a person needs a medical exemption.
Earlier this month, Moore reported that medical exemptions are granted for two major reasons: a severe allergic reaction (which must be confirmed by an allergist) to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, with a risk of about one in 100,000. It happens; and pericarditis, inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, or myocarditis, inflammation of the heart itself, with a risk of about one to five per 100,000.
“Roughly, if you put those calculations together, we should see a medical exemption of about one to five per 100,000 (0.005 percent),” Moore told reporters on October 5. He added that higher rates of one or two per cent deserve review.
“Certainly we have made an effort to educate the physicians, nurse practitioners who fill out these forms, to make sure they are aware of the two major exemptions for these vaccines.”
The only other current medical exemption for the vaccine in Ontario is for people who are actively receiving monoclonal antibody therapy or convalescent plasma therapy to either treat or prevent COVID-19.
Health ministry spokesman Bill Campbell wrote in an emailed statement that health care professionals could lose their licenses if they provided false information.
“Our government will continue to review the data and evidence and take necessary actions to limit transmission and protect the health and safety of Ontario,” he said.
Shay Greenfield, spokesman for the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, said the regulator have communicated for doctors that this medical exemption is expected to provide a “clear clinical reasoning” consistent with Guidelines of the Ministry of Health.
“Intentionally providing exemption documents to patients who do not meet the ministry’s criteria or granting exemptions to circumvent vaccination mandates may constitute serious misconduct,” he said in an emailed statement.
“We take these matters very seriously and wherever we become aware of the allegations, we will take all appropriate steps to investigate.”
To date, the college has ordered three doctors to stop writing medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccination as well as testing and masking, Greenfield said.
The topic of medical exemptions has also entered the political arena. Earlier this month, the provincial Progressive Conservatives faced questions about how two of their then 70 MPPs (a rate of 2.9 percent) were able to obtain exemptions for the vaccine. NDP leader Andrea Horvath called the exemption “statistically curious”. Lindsey Park, one of two MPPs, resigned from the caucus on Friday, citing a “break in trust”.
As of Friday, the school board with the highest rate of staff providing medical exemptions was the Grand Erie District School Board, which includes Brent, Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Of the 3,375 staff members to whom the Vaccination Disclosure Policy applies, 23 presented a documented medical reason for not being vaccinated, or 0.68 percent. This rate is 136 times higher than that of the general population.
Spokesperson Dave Smouter wrote in an email that the board has a small team that is reviewing their documentation with these individuals. This process is guided by “generally accepted standards of what constitutes a valid exemption”.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board has the second-highest rate at 48 exemptions, or 0.67 percent, of 7,144 employees.
Spokesman Sean McKillop said the board’s human resources department “continues to work through a third-party exemption review process with all employees who have certified such exemptions.”
Thirty staff members out of a total of 11,923 (0.25 percent) have been approved for medical or religious exemptions to the vaccine at the Ottawa-Carlton District School Board, according to spokeswoman Darcy Knoll, and the board is in the process of reviewing more. Over 50 discount requests. They didn’t have a breakdown of how religious versus medical there were.
Five of the 39,845 employees at the Toronto District School Board had a comparatively low rate of approved exemptions, or 0.01 percent, and the Peel District School Board had 32, or 0.13 percent, of the 24,036 employees.
Three of the school boards Starr surveyed – Conseil Scholar Catholic Providence, Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, and Rainbow District School Board – had no medical exemptions.
Dr. Neeli Kaplan-Myrth, an Ottawa-based family physician who has organized the “Jabpalooza” vaccine clinic, said she has turned down several requests for exemption from her patients.
He said that there should be a formal centralized process in every sector for every exemption letter, which should be reviewed so that the system is not misused.
“If they happen to be someone who is refusing vaccines, they are probably hanging out with other uneducated people,” she said. It all ends up “increasing the risk that someone is going to bring COVID into the classroom and that they are putting the kids in their classroom at risk.”