At Felixe Cote’s pain clinic, clients don’t have to ask if all staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — a sign right by the front door confirms that’s the case.
“We wanted that information to be right in people’s faces,” said Cote, owner of Gibvey Pain Clinic in Etobicoke and a registered massage therapist.
Soon, the clinic will ask clients if they’ve been vaccinated. If they haven’t, the clinic will consider turning them away, Cote said.
For her, this strategy is worth it. Some of her employees have underlying health conditions that put them at risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms if they’re infected, she said. They also treat vulnerable clients like seniors and babies.
“It’s very important for us to let people know that we are safe and we are taking all the precautions,” she said. “Nobody has had an issue with it.”
As the majority of eligible adults in Ontario are now fully vaccinated, patients and health-care workers are facing a new conundrum: should they disclose their immunization status voluntarily or when asked?
Premier Doug Ford recently rejected the idea of vaccine passports and making vaccines mandatory for health-care workers.
Vaccine status is private information
Nobody is legally obliged to disclose their vaccine status, which is considered private personal information, said bioethicist Andria Bianchi, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health.
Some health-care workers may choose not to tell their patients their vaccine status because they value their privacy or have a medical condition that’s preventing them from getting vaccinated and they don’t want to face stigma, she said.
(There are few instances an adult wouldn’t be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of an underlying medical condition, according to Ministry of Health recommendations)
“That’s fine if a health-care provider is not comfortable, for whatever reason, disclosing their personal health information, namely their vaccine status,” she said.
“I think that, ultimately, privacy is something that ought to be respected.”
But providers like family doctors, nurses and dentists do have an obligation to ensure a patient’s wellbeing is a priority and should explain what else they’re doing to ensure they’re safe from COVID, said Bianchi.
Dentists, doctors getting different advice
The Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario is advising dentists and their staff that they don’t have to disclose their vaccine status.
“A patient cannot demand this information,” said spokesperson Kevin Marsh. “If a patient wishes to avoid or delay booking dental appointments, that is their choice.”
The Ontario Medical Association (OMA), on the other hand, is encouraging doctors to be transparent, even if they’re not legally obliged to do so.
“The public should have confidence that their physicians are fully vaccinated,” said association president Dr. Adam Kassam, a psychiatrist in Toronto.
He’s told his patients he’s vaccinated, and so has his wife, who is a family doctor, to lead by example, he said.
The OMA, along with the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, is calling on the province to require all health-workers to be vaccinated.
“Vaccines are the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and ultimately, if we want to move forward through a recovery phase for our society, we need as many people fully vaccinated as possible,” Kassam said.