WINDSOR, Ont. — A southwestern Ontario hospital has fired 57 employees who failed to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by a Thursday deadline — a number it said is dwarfed by the thousands who did get their shots.

The Windsor Regional Hospital has also suspended six “professional staff” — people who had privileges to practise at the facility but weren’t employees — on what it describes as a “mid-term basis,” as it enforces its vaccine mandate.

The hospital said 4,155 employees and professional staff complied with the COVID-19 vaccine policy, accounting for 98.5 per cent of the workforce.

Nurses were even better represented, with 99 per cent of them getting the shot.

“I want to thank the WRH team members for recognizing the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines and leading by example for our community and province,” hospital CEO David Musyj said in a written statement.

The hospital said 32 of those who were fired after refusing to get vaccinated were clinical staff, while 25 were non-clinical.

The hospital announced in early September that employees who had not received a first dose of a vaccine by Thursday would be fired, unless they had a medical or human rights reason for not getting the shot.

Professional staff were to be suspended temporarily, and their cases referred to the Medical Advisory Committee. The hospital said it will recommend that the committee revoke their privileges.

Those who opted not to get vaccinated on human rights grounds had to participate in an education session.

The hospital had also set a softer deadline of Sept. 22, at which point workers who hadn’t received their first shot were placed on an unpaid leave for two weeks.

At that time, the hospital said, 147 staff members hadn’t received their first dose.

“We have to individually and collectively do everything in our power to minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Wassim Saad, the hospital’s chief of staff.

“Becoming vaccinated and following public health measures are two main key factors that reduce risk especially in an environment we care for many immune-compromised patients.”

The Windsor Hospital is among the health-care facilities that went a step further than required by the province’s chief medical officer of health.

Dr. Kieran Moore said in August that hospital policies need only require unvaccinated staff to attend an education session on immunization, but he left the door open for the facilities to implement stricter consequences.

He said Thursday that he’s glad so many health-care workers have gotten their shots, and that it wasn’t his goal to get anyone fired.

“Our intent through these policies is that they embrace the opportunity to be immunized to protect themselves, to protect their families, to protect their patients, ” he said. “That is our entire wish: that they become immunized. These vaccines are safe. They are exceptionally effective.”

He noted that it’s especially crucial for health-care workers to get vaccinated because their jobs are so important.

“To have anyone off because they’ve been exposed or because they’ve gotten the infection takes time away from care,” Moore said. “I’m saddened that some workers haven’t come forward to be immunized, but in some settings it’s absolutely essential that they be immunized.”

By Nicole Thompson in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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