Director Kerry Costello presented Smiths Falls town council with a draft vaccination policy for the town at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday night. Council was required to decide if town employees, elected officials, volunteers and contractors would be mandated to be double vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to continue to be employed by the town. This elicited much discussion from town council.
Councillor Niki Dwyer noted that “this is such a hard discussion to have.” She commented that while she personally is in favour of the vaccine, she acknowledges that getting a vaccine is a personal choice, and so in some cases exemption on compassionate grounds should be considered.
Mayor Pankow agreed that this decision was not one to be made lightly. “This is really gut-wrenching. We are making decisions that could have an impact on people’s livelihood and career. At the same time, we need to balance the impact of Covid-19 on people’s lives, the people who work in our municipality. As an employer, we have a responsibility to protect our staff. The OHSA requires we do all we can to protect our staff.”
Mayor Pankow noted that Premier Doug Ford is considering lifting the mandatory vaccine policy by March 2022. He acknowledged this makes the decision a little more complicated, as employees could seek the option of working from home or regular rapid-antigen testing for a short time until the policy is lifted.
Councillor Lorraine Allen said she believed the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but that this wasn’t always her position. She shared that getting the vaccine wasn’t an easy choice for her. “I struggled with the vaccination because I have health issues. But I took that to my doctors and talked with them about it. I chose to do what they suggested for the good of more people.”
Councillor Wendy Alford agreed with Councillor Allen. “I really appreciate all the comments that my colleagues have made. I’ve worked very hard for the last 2 years to protect my loved ones. I’ve given up a lot. Most of us have. The needs of the one can’t outweigh the needs of the many.”
Councillor Dwyer remained in favour of offering regular tests and strict masking for town employees who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine. “I can appreciate the concerns; but I feel like we can still maintain those obligations by requiring additional testing. I think we can demonstrate through that policy that we are doing our best to work safely with our employees. But I still don’t believe it is our right to require any individual to undertake a vaccine should they not choose.”
Mayor Pankow replied that he didn’t know why anyone would choose not to get the vaccine unless it was due to a rare medical condition, “however, I’m also not in their shoes or understanding their mental health, their anxiety or any other challenges that may prevent their understanding the benefits of the vaccine.” The Mayor was also in favour of offering testing as an option for employees who did not wish to get the vaccine.
Councillor Peter McKenna spoke up to point out that even with a mandatory vaccine policy, “We’re not forcing people to be vaccinated. They have a choice. If they choose to stay here, they make that decision – to get the vaccine. It’s their choice.”
Councillor McGuire pointed out that the unvaccinated are the ones most at risk from the unvaccinated. Councillor Alford added that the largest cohort of unvaccinated citizens is everyone under 12 years of age.
Council voted 4/3 in favour of a mandatory vaccine policy for all town employees.