Last updated: September 18, 2021 at 6:15 p.m.

Vaccination is a key public health measure to help ensure a safe return to campus and residences for all staff, students and faculty of post-secondary education institutions and student residences.

Everyone 12 years of age and over in Ontario is currently eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Two doses of COVID-19 vaccine are needed for the best protection against COVID-19 and its more transmissible variants. Some post-secondary institutions have already instituted mandatory vaccination policies that promote health and safety measures to protect individuals living, working and studying in these settings. TPH supports the Ministry of Colleges and Universities’ promotional efforts of vaccines and establishment of vaccination clinics to continue progress on vaccination rates as part the anticipated return to full in-person instruction and on-campus activities.  These mandatory vaccination policies are also supported by both Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities to ensure the optimal public health protection for all staff, students and faculty.

People who are fully vaccinated are less likely to get infected with COVID-19 and spread it to others. While there is a small chance that people who are fully vaccinated may become infected with the virus, they are much less likely to experience severe illness and become hospitalized.

The following toolkit is a summary and collection of COVID-19 vaccine resources for post-secondary education institutions and private student residences to be used as part of public health planning and policy development for the fall 2021 term and beyond.

Approved vaccines

There are four vaccines currently approved by Health Canada: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson). The Government of Ontario also recognizes doses of COVID-19 vaccines included in the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing as valid in Ontario. In addition to the four vaccines approved by Health Canada, this includes the Sinopharm/Beijing Bio-Institute of Biological Products and Sinovac vaccines.

Vaccines received outside of Canada/Ontario

Individuals who live in Toronto and received a first or second dose outside Ontario are encouraged to document their vaccine so it can be uploaded to the provincial database.

As per the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Guidance for Individuals vaccinated outside of Ontario/Canada, for doses received outside of Canada to be considered valid they must satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Proof of vaccination is required to verify the COVID-19 vaccine product received (this may include immunization record, vaccination certificate, or other)
  2. Second doses of a vaccine schedule should follow intervals recommended by Ontario (see below)
  3. For vaccines not authorized by Health Canada but listed for emergency use by the WHO, a completed vaccination series is considered valid in Ontario
  4. For vaccines not authorized by Health Canada but listed for emergency use by the WHO, a partially completed vaccination series is not considered sufficient in Ontario and thus individuals should be offered a new series of a Health Canada authorized COVID-19 vaccine
  5. For vaccines not authorized by Health Canada and not listed for emergency use by the WHO, any vaccination (partial series or completed series) is considered insufficient in Ontario, and thus individuals should be offered a new series of a Health Canada authorized COVID-19 vaccine

Table 1: minimum vaccine dose intervals of valid vaccines recognized in Ontario as per Health Canada and the World Health Organization

COVID-19 Vaccine Minimum Interval
Pfizer-BioNTech 2 doses, 21 day interval
Moderna 2 doses, 28 day interval
AstraZeneca 2 doses, 8 week interval
Janssen/Johnson & Johnson 1 dose
Sinopharm 2 doses, 3-4 week interval
Sinovac 2 doses, 2-4 week interval

Vaccine schedules and completing vaccine series

A vaccine series is considered completed if an individual has received all required vaccine doses at the appropriate schedule. The Janssen/Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is the only Health Canada approved or WHO Emergency Use Listing COVID-19 vaccine with a single-dose schedule. All other approved vaccines require two doses, at varying schedules, for completion of vaccination series.

The Government of Ontario has approved the mixing of COVID-19 vaccines to achieve a completed two-dose vaccine series, based on recommendations made by the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI). Mixing vaccines is safe and allows for more people to be fully protected sooner. Learn more about mixing vaccines and accessing second doses.  Combining similar vaccines from different manufacturers in a series is not a new concept. Different vaccine products have been safely and effectively used to complete vaccine series for influenza, hepatitis A, and other communicable diseases. Individuals are encouraged to speak with a health care professional for help understanding the options available to them so that they can make an informed decision on their vaccination.

Resources:

Postsecondary institutions requiring that students living in residences provide proof of vaccination must comply with the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA). PHIPA governs the collection, use and disclosure of personal health information within the health sector with the objective of keeping personal health information confidential and secure.

As per the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, post-secondary institutions are allowed to collect, use or disclose students’ personal health information if the student consents where it is necessary for a lawful purpose, and it is permitted or required by the PHIPA. The post-secondary institution must take reasonable steps to ensure health information is kept secure, and that the student and Information Privacy Commissioner, if required, are notified if that information is lost, stolen or used and/or disclosed without authority.

For postsecondary institutions considering mandatory vaccination policies, valid exemptions may be sought by individuals on medical grounds and/or based on the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Medical Exemptions

Licensed physicians and nurse practitioners may provide documentation exempting individuals from mandatory vaccination policies on medical grounds. The exemption should be signed by a physician or nurse practitioner, state that the individual cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19, and identify the time duration of this exemption.

Medical exemptions can be permanent or temporary, and can be reviewed by a physician or nurse practitioner for assessment and clearance if necessary. NACI’s COVID-19 guidance highlights possible temporary and permanent vaccine exemptions including anaphylaxis, myocarditis/pericarditis, receipt of another vaccine within 14 days, and more.

Ontario Human Rights Code

The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination against people based on a protected ground in a protected social area. Some institutions implementing mandatory vaccine policies have referenced the Code as a legitimate vehicle to seek non-medical human rights exemptions.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), an arm’s length government agency which seeks to prevent discrimination and advance human rights in Ontario, has provided a Questions and Answers summary to provide clarity regarding an individual’s human rights and their obligations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legal consultation is recommended for any institutions seeking to establish an exemption policy in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.

To help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, a vaccination policy is an important measure post-secondary institutions can implement to protect their community.

Assess your setting’s risk of transmission by considering the following:

  • Does your community have a high vaccination rate?
  • Can staff and students keep at least two metres apart while performing their work/participating in campus activities?
  • Are staff and students required to be in close contact with others?
  • How long and how often are staff and students in close contact with others?
  • Does your setting have physical barriers when staff and students cannot keep distance from each other, good ventilation and personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers?
  • Do you have staff and studentsers who may be at risk for severe illness from COVID-19? Some people may have reduced immunity due to age, pre-existing health conditions or medical treatments.
  • Is your setting able to offer alternative work for people who require accommodation?

The vaccination policy should adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code  and privacy laws.

Please note: the information provided on this webpage does not contain legal advice and should not be relied on or treated as legal advice; those for whom these recommendations are intended may seek their own legal advice for their specific circumstance.

Key Components in a Vaccination Policy

1. Identify the scope and purpose.

  • Explain purpose of the policy including the risks of COVID-19. Vaccination against COVID-19 is one of the best ways to protect your community. The Delta variant of the coronavirus is more contagious, with greater risk for severe illness and hospitalization.
  • Explain who the policy applies to. Will the policy apply to all staff and students?
  • Have a clear communication plan to inform staff and students about the policy.

2. List action steps staff and students must take.

When necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, vaccination policies should require staff and students to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated. Alternatively, staff and students may need to:

  • Indicate that they have a medical exemption, including if the reasons are temporary or permanent. The medical exemption should be written by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner and does not need to include the reason for the exemption.
  • Complete a vaccination education course, with a signed declaration stating that they understand the risks of COVID-19 and the benefits of vaccination. The vaccination education course should include information on:
    • How the COVID-19 vaccines work;
    • Vaccine safety related to the development of the COVID-19 vaccines;
    • The benefits of vaccination against COVID-19;
    • Risks of not being vaccinated against COVID-19; and
    • Possible side effects of COVID-19 vaccination.

3. Set deadlines for when the actions must be taken.

Specify a reasonable date when staff and students must demonstrate compliance with the workplace policy.

4. List available supports for vaccination.

Demonstrate your commitment to supporting staff nad students to get vaccinated. Ways to support people to get vaccinated include:

  • Providing vaccine information from credible sources or translated resources
  • Supporting vaccine champions to initiate conversations with their peers
  • Providing paid leave for staff to get vaccinated
  • Reminding staff that they are entitled to up to three paid sick days, if they have side effects from the vaccine
  • Offering incentives such as gift cards or prizes
  • Hosting on-site vaccination clinics

5. Provisions for unvaccinated staff and students

Your policy should list alternative options for staff and students who decline to get vaccinated for reasons protected by the Human Rights Act, or who are unable to complete their vaccination series for medical reasons. Some options to consider include:

  • Use of additional PPE, frequent COVID-19 testing, worker relocation, and modified work or reassignments.
  • In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, unvaccinated and partially vaccinated staff and students (who have only received one dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series) are not be permitted in the outbreak area. Staff and students without vaccination records should be assumed to be unvaccinated.
  • If reassignment is not possible, consider if unvaccinated staff may use vacation or unpaid leave until it is safe for them to return to the workplace.

6. Non-Compliance

  • Outline the potential consequences for staff and students who do not fulfill the requirements of the policy.

7. Privacy considerations

The policy should specify how individual vaccination status of staff and students will be used by the post-secondary institution to mitigate the health-related risks of COVID-19.

Information about staff and students’ vaccination information must be protected in accordance with applicable privacy legislation. Knowing your staff and students’ vaccination status may be important to help you take appropriate action quickly, in the event of COVID-19 cases in your institution, to protect your community, their families, and the general public.

When collecting information about staff and students’ vaccination status:
  • Identify ways to safeguard personal health information.
  • Limit information collected to the individual’s name and date of vaccination for each dose.
  • Keep staff and students’ vaccination information separate from their personnel or student file.
  • Ensure personal health/vaccination information is kept in a secure manner and only used when required.

8. Staff contact

  • Identify who at your institution staff and students should contact with questions about the policy, to request accommodation, or for more information how to comply with the policy. The policy should also indicate the person to whom staff and students should provide proof of vaccination.

Post-secondary institutions can encourage staff and students to get vaccinated and support increased vaccination uptake with a few simple steps:

  • Lead by example and get fully vaccinated.
  • Share your reasons for getting the vaccine.
  • Consider recruiting vaccine champions to help staff and students understand the benefits of getting vaccinated.
  • Post information about nearby vaccination clinics in common areas.
  • Offer flexible work hours, or paid time off for employees to go get vaccinated.
  • Consider use of incentives for voluntary disclosure of vaccination status.

Post-secondary institutions are encouraged to engage with Toronto Public Health to establish vaccination clinics and promote vaccination on campus.

Individuals looking to get immunized can visit the City of Toronto COVID-19: How to Get Vaccinated website for more information including on vaccine eligibility, how to book access their vaccine, and more.

Institutions seeking to partner with Toronto Public Health for onsite COVID-19 immunization clinics in their residences and on-campus are invited to complete a short survey. TPH staff will call or email you within three business days to confirm the details of your request and any additional information required.

Mobile Clinic Request Intake Form

Download this information as a PDF.

Also read a letter to post-secondary institutions on optimizing COVID-19 vaccine coverage in post-secondary institutions and congregate student living settings.