OTTAWA -- Ottawa’s police chief says the force’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, which does not require members be vaccinated, is safe for officers and the public.

Unlike federal government and city workers, who could lose their jobs if they aren’t vaccinated, police officers can continue working without getting their shots.

Instead, unvaccinated officers will be required to undergo rapid testing every three days.

The Ottawa Police Service will pay for the tests at designated locations. If officers go elsewhere, they'll have to pay out of pocket.

"Members are expected to make arrangements for testing at OPS identified testing locations. Should members attend a non-OPS identified testing location, such as a pharmacy, the employee will be responsible for the costs," an OPS spokesperson said in a statement to CTV News Ottawa.

Chief Peter Sloly says the policy was developed in full consultation with Ottawa Public Health.

“It’s in compliance with the municipal standards and provincial standards,” he told reporters on Monday. “We are going to do our very best to keep our members healthy and safe so they keep the city health and safe.”  

Ottawa Public Health says in general, it doesn’t provide recommendations to employers regarding mandatory vaccine policies for staff.

“It is the decision of individual organization and businesses to implement a workplace vaccine policy,” OPH said in a statement. “With respect to the Ottawa Police Service, OPH provided information on and the rationale for OPH’s and the city’s mandatory vaccine policies.”

The Toronto Police Service is requiring vaccinations for both uniformed and civilian staff. Any member who isn’t fully vaccinated by Nov. 30 will be place on indefinite unpaid leave.

But the head of Ottawa’s police union says the OPS policy is more fair, and other big employers are going too far in demanding employees get vaccinated.

“Quite frankly, I don’t agree with their policies. I think it was very draconian and heavy-handed,” Matt Skof said. “This is the policy that I think will keep people at work and keep the environment positive as an employer, and productive.”

Medical experts say rapid testing can be effective in keeping staff safe, but it must be done at strict intervals.

 “The challenge with COVID is that the incubation period is so small, and it’s asymptomatic spread, that you do have to test pretty often,” said Dr. Doug Manuel, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

“Even with rapid testing if you look at the models you are going to miss a few people.”

As of Friday, police estimated that more than 83 per cent of its members were fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Sloly said fewer than 10 members have contracted COVID-19, and only two of them in the work environment. None have transmitted the virus into the public through their duties, he said.