In dramatic reversal, City of Hamilton pauses vaccine mandate for new hires

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Mayor Andrea Horwath (pictured, centre) made motion to pause the policy earlier this month. Move comes as municipality struggles with 10 per cent staffing shortage across the corporation. Photo credit: Facebook/Andrea Horwath


In a dramatic reversal of previous debates on the issue, Hamilton’s city councillors have voted to pause the vaccine requirement for newly hired city workers.

The most recent vote on the issue came earlier than expected and resulted in several councillors changing their position on the matter.

In the last update on the matter, Mayor Andrea Horwath brought forward a successful motion on February 8, 2023 to refer the City of Hamilton’s vaccine requirement for new hires, the last remaining mandate, to Hamilton’s medical officer of health (MOH).

The motion directed Hamilton’s MOH, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, to prepare a report on the efficacy of being “fully vaccinated”, having received two doses of the vaccine, and come back to Council with a “medical and science-based analysis of whether or not the city should keep the new hire vaccine policy, remove it, or amend it.”

At the time, Dr. Richardson said that the report would take until the end of June to write “due to the volume of work” her office was facing and the fact that they were “short-staffed.” Thus, it was expected that the new hire vaccination mandate would not be discussed until the end of June or early July.

However, Dr. Richardson’s office was able to prepare the report earlier than expected, and it was provided to Council in advance of their May 3 General Issues Committee meeting.

The report read that vaccination protects against “severe effects” of COVID-19, “but has little, if any, effect against the risk” of infection or “transmission of the virus between people.”

It then goes on to conclude that since vaccination “does not reduce COVID-19 disease transmission,” the “individual level benefits would not justify the imposition” of a vaccine mandate for city employees.

As a result of the MOH’s advice, Mayor Horwath brought forward a motion to “pause all provisions in vaccine verification” including for new staff.

Her motion also included pausing vaccine requirements for staff working at city-run long-term care homes, Hamilton Paramedic Services, and the Red Hill Child Care Centre and pausing all rapid antigen testing programs for city workers.

The motion was seconded by Councillor Tom Jackson.

At the meeting, Horwath said that she believes following the medical officer of health’s advice is the “appropriate direction” for the city “at this point in time.”

“Things have changed as the pandemic moved along. The important thing here is to be able to turn the page on some of the friction and difficulties that this Council went through and so many others went through as well,” she added.

Councillor Cameron Kroetsch spoke against Horwath’s motion.

“I’m not going to vote in favour” of pausing the vaccine mandate, the Downtown Hamilton Councillor stated.

He said that, in terms of the pandemic, the country and indeed the city are still “not in a good situation” and that Council has not “had discussions about COVID in the long term.”

The vote on Horwath’s motion was 11-3 in favour of pausing the vaccine mandate.

In favour (11) were Councillors McMeekin, Tadeson, Danko, Cassar, Jackson, Spadafora, Beattie, Horwath, Nann, Francis, and Pauls.

Against (3) were Councillors M. Wilson, Kroetsch, and A. Wilson.

Councillors Brad Clark and Tammy Hwang were absent from the meeting at the time of the vote.

Among the councillors who reversed their position on the vaccine mandate is West Mountain Councillor John-Paul Danko. 

He was a staunch supporter of terminating unvaccinated city employees and keeping the new hire vaccine mandate in place and has said multiple times that those who do not get vaccinated are “selfish”. 

Despite that, he voted in favour of Horwath’s motion to pause the new hire vaccination mandate.

It should be noted that the language in the motion signifying that the policy is simply being “paused” is particularly significant. Since the policy is being paused and not revoked, it can easily be reimplemented.

The move comes as the City of Hamilton struggles with 10 per cent of city staffing positions sitting vacant due to hiring struggles as of the latest August 2022 report. That translates to 664 empty positions of the 6,712 jobs at the city level.

City of Hamilton Human Resources Director Laura Fontana previously said that she doesn’t “have a sense of the number of people that didn’t apply” because of the policy, only the people who applied and were then turned away.

The new hire policy is separate from the vaccination policy for current city employees. Current city employees were slated to be terminated on June 1, 2022. That was then amended to September 30, 2022.

But then Fontana revealed that the financial costs of following through with the employee termination would cost taxpayers between $2.8 million to $7.4 million due to severance packages entitled to unionized city employees who would face termination.

Council then decided not to terminate unvaccinated current city employees.

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