OTTAWA -- All doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers at CHEO will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Ottawa children's hospital is joining SickKids in Toronto and the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in East York in implementing COVID-19 vaccine mandate polices for staff, volunteers, learners and contractors.

CHEO says the mandatory vaccination policy will include that two COVID-19 vaccinations will be a condition of employment for all new hires.

If doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers are not fully vaccinated, the hospitals say, "All options will be considered to effectively enforce the policy."

"As we enter this fourth wave, one of the things we know is, of course, COVID looks for unvaccinated people and children under 12 are unvaccinated and so we want to have layers of protection to make CHEO as safe as possible for everyone, of course principally for kids and families," said Alex Munter, President and CEO of CHEO.

"In addition to the PPE, the masking, the screening, the distancing and all of those measures, vaccination is an additional layer of protection that makes CHEO safer."

As of Thursday, 84 per cent of staff and 94 per cent of physicians at CHEO have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and are considered fully vaccinated.

Munter tells CTV News Ottawa that 71 per cent of the patients at CHEO are under the age of 12 and are not eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Imagine bringing a sick child to CHEO and all of the worries already on a parent or caregivers mind. They shouldn't also have to worry about the vaccine status of our staff when they access care," said Munter in a statement on Twitter.

"This policy is one additional layer of protection for kids and families."

On Tuesday, the Ontario government announced a new vaccine policy for high-risk settings.

Employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers at hospitals and home and community care settings will, at a minimum, have to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19, have a medical reason for not being vaccinated, or complete a vaccination educational session.

"Their policies go beyond the Ontario government directive requiring that all health-care workers in the province get vaccinated or routinely tested prior to coming to work. The policies will start September 7, 2021," said a statement from CHEO, SickKids and Holland Bloorview Thursday afternoon.

CHEO says under the policy, all staff, as well as volunteers, learners and contractors are expected to be fully vaccinated, with the exception of those with a documented medical or human rights exemption.

"For those not in compliance after completing vaccine education requirements, all options will be considered to effectively enforce the policy," said the statement from CHEO, SickKids, and Holland Bloorview.

"Like all the policies and procedures each organization has implemented throughout the pandemic, the vaccine mandate policies are grounded in the latest scientific evidence, with the safety of patients, families and staff at the forefront."

Munter tells CTV News Ottawa the expectation is all employees at CHEO will be fully vaccinated, unless they have a medical exemption.

"That's a requirement now to be hired here at CHEO and we'll be looking by Oct. 15 to have that in place for all of our current staff, physicians, volunteers and learners as well," said Munter, noting CHEO has medical experts available to discuss vaccine safety with staff.

"If somebody's still refusing to be vaccinated, nothing is off the table including of course unpaid leave of absence and the like."

 

Ottawa mother Dawn Kendall says the new vaccination policy is a source of comfort.

"Little kids can't be vaccinated yet, so the fact they're doing what they can for all our children in the city is excellent," said Kendall.

Kendall's two children, a 15-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, are both fully vaccinated.

"You're going to the hospital because your child's health is at risk," Kendall said. "But knowing they do have this as a blanket policy is really nice because you don't have to think about that now. On their end, they're keeping you safe."

In the statement released by CHEO, SickKids and Holland Bloorview, Ontario chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore expressed support for the vaccination policy.

"We recognize that some organizations, where a vast majority of patients are not currently eligible to be vaccinated, will need to go beyond the minimum standard set by our directive," said Moore. "We support SickKids, CHEO, Holland Bloorview and others in taking these necessary measures to protect patient, family and staff safety."

Several health organizations have called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers, including the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, the Ontario Medical Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association.

On Thursday, medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches encouraged all businesses in Ottawa to develop COVID-19 vaccination policies. 

With files from CTV News Toronto's Sean Davidson.