Provincial funding cuts combined with decisions by Toronto city staff to exempt from vaccines employees who don’t routinely immunize their children have left the city with “no choice” but to pull resources from programs to ensure safety, Ontario’s health minister says.
Eileen Degenhardt, speaking at a press conference with Mayor John Tory to announce municipal funding cuts, apologized to parents whose children are affected. “I know this decision is not ideal,” she said. “I also apologize for the inconvenience and disruption to your child’s education.”
According to Ms. Degenhardt, funding for daycare and preschool programs has been stripped by the province to help balance the budget. The city decided to exempt from vaccinations staff who don’t regularly immunize their children, which has raised questions about the city’s decision to continue permitting children who may have been exposed to the flu or who may be carriers of dangerous infectious diseases in the classroom.
Ms. Degenhardt said there were 400,000 children registered in daycare and preschool programs in the city that are still without vaccines. “We’re doing everything we can to help,” she said. The city has taken steps to limit staff and staff equipment exposure to flu in the schools by limiting travel or presence at events, she said.
A spokesperson for the city told CBC News the recommendation to exclude exempt staff for immunization was not forthcoming from Health Canada, but the province had sent notices to approximately 30,000 daycare and preschool teachers asking them to fully immunize. The city declined to release a list of staff who have been excluded, citing privacy concerns.
“Our focus at this point has been on ensuring children attend school safely and that any precautionary measures are taken in order to limit the potential impact of staff exemption on children attending in-school programs,” Caroline Simard said in a statement to CBC News. “We take great care to protect children when they come into contact with staff at Toronto public and non-profit schools and daycares.”
Ms. Simard said the city is “pausing” some of its recreation programs in response to a lack of staff. At its Women in Sports and Fitness Expo on Saturday, organizers announced that programs in the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Police and the Community Relations Commission would not be able to run their programs because of staffing shortages.
Susan Goodsell, an organizer of the expo, told Global News they were not aware of the city’s decision. “The thought of the daycare and school drop-off routes was quite disturbing, to say the least,” she said. “We work with a lot of children, a lot of parents with children who we don’t want to let down.”
The city has been under financial strain in recent years as politicians grapple with political polarization and a series of expensive legal settlements. The NDP and provincial Liberals have pushed for government spending cuts while the Progressive Conservatives and the Green Party have criticized the province’s spending.