Toronto Mayor John Tory is calling for major changes to the way Canadian police departments vaccinate all staff against rabies after 117 Toronto police officers were placed on “indefinite unpaid absence” for missing a deadline to be fully vaccinated.
Toronto police say 99 percent of all uniformed staff have been vaccinated for rabies.
More than 4,500 Ontario police officers are required to be fully vaccinated against rabies before they can be formally recognized and receive full legal protection, the Toronto Sun reported Thursday.
The mandatory rabies vaccinations are part of a program in which uniformed police officers are required to wear protective vests and gear around the clock.
Last month, Toronto police announced that 94 percent of its 4,499 uniformed officers had been vaccinated. But only 57 percent had been fully vaccinated, the police force said.
A recent rabies outbreak in the U.S. is to blame for the reported absence, Toronto police said. Police officers assigned to the Canadian city of 24 million were being sent letters in November warning them they could face a suspension, termination or even jail time for non-compliance.
Tory blamed the low percentage of properly vaccinated police officers on the work schedule provided by the province. “It’s a non-enforcement province, and often the officers don’t have the opportunity to have this covered or vaccinated,” he said.
Ontario has been dealing with a large number of rabid dogs in recent months. For example, in January of 2018, dogs attacked and killed nine people in Ontario and killed another 16. That was the highest number of rabies cases in 20 years.
To avoid a repeat this year, the province increased the mandatory rabies vaccination rate for city-employed police officers from 62 percent to 93 percent. Officers were given mandatory rabies vaccinations on or after Oct. 1 and were suspended or issued citations if they did not arrive at work fully vaccinated by Dec. 1.
Carrying out the changes didn’t come without controversy.
A black Toronto police officer said the “virus is most definitely a deadly one.”
“You can’t shake it, it’s not something that goes away,” Nadine Morse said. “You need to make sure to vaccinate yourself if you encounter one in the line of duty.”
“This is a luxury these individuals must afford to the public, they do not have,” she added.