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'Our ticket out of COVID-19 crisis': Aurora upholds policy mandating vaccinations for employees

'I can't sit back and watch' workers lose jobs, argues councillor who proposed frequent rapid testing
Oct. 1, 2021
Lisa Queen

Arguing the potential threat to employees’ livelihoods doesn’t outweigh the need to protect people’s lives, Aurora councillors have voted to uphold a new policy mandating staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

But the decision at the Sept. 28 council meeting didn’t come without significant debate and a split vote.

Councillor John Gallo unsuccessfully attempted to bring in a motion that would have tossed out the mandatory policy obligating all town workers, volunteers and co-op students to be fully vaxxed and instead allow the unvaccinated ones to undergo frequent rapid testing to ensure they aren’t infected with the virus.

More than 97 per cent of staff who have responded report they have either received two vaccines or will by fully vaxxed by the end of October, according to the town.

Gallo argued other municipalities, school boards and organizations allow the rapid testing and said unvaccinated employees shouldn’t lose their jobs because they haven’t gotten shots.

“Voting against (my motion) is telling those employees that we’re mandating double vaccination and if you don’t, you’re going to lose your job and I can’t just sit back and watch that,” he said, stressing he is concerned about employee and community safety.

Gallo was supported by Coun. Wendy Gaertner and Coun. Rachel Gilliland, who said the small number of unvaccinated workers aren’t necessarily anti-vaxxers but scared people who need more time to become comfortable.

But Mayor Tom Mrakas and councillors Sandra Humfryes, Michael Thompson and Harold Kim voted against Gallo’s proposal, saying mandatory staff vaccines help protect the lives of employees and residents.

The mandatory policy exempts those with valid medical reasons.

Interestingly, Kim just ran unsuccessfully in the federal election as the Newmarket-Aurora candidate for the Conservatives, who oppose mandatory vaccines.

“The Conservatives know that the best tool against COVID-19 is people getting vaccinated -- yet acknowledge that Canadians have the right to make their own health choices,” Kim responded, when asked a question from the Aurora Banner and during the campaign.

“The Conservatives’ plan for those who choose not to get vaccinated, including federal employees, includes rapid testing and requiring the unvaccinated to provide proof of a recent negative test result, or pass a rapid test before getting on a bus, train, plane, or ship.”

At the council meeting, Kim he believes in people’s rights not to be injected with something they don’t feel comfortable with.

But he said there are no magic answers and given the economic, social and health catastrophe of various pandemic measures such as lockdowns, vaccinations have “a superior cost-benefit profile compared to other alternatives.”

Mrakas said the town’s mandatory vaccination policy is needed during the gruelling global pandemic.

“We’ve seen businesses close, we’ve seen people lose their livelihoods and their homes and we’ve seen loved ones get sick and die,” he said.

“As this crisis drags on, we have also, unfortunately, experienced the impacts of caustic, divisive, politicization of the pandemic. This serves no one. We get through this by working together toward a common cause -- the health and safety of our residents, staff and business owners.”

Saying he relies on the expertise of York Region’s medical officer of health, Dr. Karim Kurji, who says vaccinations are “our ticket to getting out of the COVID-19 crisis,” Mrakas said the town’s policy was developed with the region and York’s other eight municipalities.

Rapid tests are an additional layer of public health protection, not a replacement for vaccinations, he said.