(CNN) — The city of Toronto has suspended 248 of its employees without pay after they failed to follow Ontario’s mandatory vaccine requirements.
The city’s ban, called COPE 19, was put in place earlier this year and comes after Toronto, Ontario Public Health and the Ontario Ministry of Health completed research that showed children who receive a universal childhood immunization before 16 months are less likely to get admitted to hospital for measles and other highly contagious diseases.
“The threat of measles remains very real for Ontario and is especially dangerous for those who are not vaccinated due to their lack of immunity,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto Public Health’s medical officer of health.
The immunization schedule for immunization against measles starts at 12 months of age. An employee who applies for a job after the annual immunization requirements are updated on May 1 cannot apply for employment until they present proof of vaccination or proof that they took action to be protected against exposure to measles.
According to the health ministry, 416 employees were not immunized and issued a COPE 19 suspension letter for non-compliance, while 122 were suspended by having their day-to-day responsibilities reduced or suspended.
This happens in addition to the 8,000 employees that are part of the city’s existing immunization program.
“The measures that we’re taking provide the most effective and efficient means to protect our most vulnerable populations — children whose parents declined to have them immunized and the urban aboriginal population,” said Mayor John Tory in a written statement.
“Our objective has always been to support our employees and not impose disciplinary measures — we don’t believe there is any real benefit to employee morale or productivity in taking such action.”
The staff affected by the suspension are spread across two departments: the fire department and the fire prevention and health services departments.
“The Fire Department consistently treats all of its employees fairly, and makes every effort to work with all those affected in good faith and we also do our best to accommodate and work with those who are exempt from these vaccination requirements,” Toronto Fire Chief John Grill said in a written statement.
Toronto Public Health said that an audit will be carried out to determine if there is a need to extend the COPE 19 vaccination requirements to the fire department.
“It is estimated that in the first year alone over 1,200 children in Toronto will be immunized due to this policy,” de Villa said.
Mayor Tory said he has no plans to introduce legislation to lift the city’s COPE 19.
“My only interest here is in keeping people safe and protecting kids,” he said.