OHL finds support for mandatory vaccine policy

Oshawa Generals owner Roger Hunt says the Ontario Hockey League’s new mandatory vaccination policy for players, staff, family and billets will only make the game safer against the spread of COVID-19.

“The league has shown their top concern in all of their directives — whether they be rule changes or this mandate — is for the protection of the players,” Hunt said, “… and if you look at staff and the community, this is the best possible way of protecting all those people.”

The 20-team league, with games scheduled to start Oct. 7 after two cancelled seasons, made the decision public on Tuesday. The mandate applies to “all OHL community members … individuals who attend training camp, practices, games, or play in the OHL. And specifically (the policy) includes all players, coaches, trainers, team and league staff, officials, volunteers and billet families.”

Proof of full vaccination at least two weeks prior to training camp, or the start of an off-ice job, must be shown. Anyone who doesn’t comply can be ruled out “for the duration of the pandemic or until such a time that COVID-19 no longer poses a significant public health risk.”

Asked if he expects anyone on the Generals to show up unvaccinated, Hunt said: “For us, I don’t think that will present an issue.”

In cases of “medical or protected ground reasons for not being vaccinated,” the OHL says it will comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code and laws governing teams outside the province, and “work with an independent medical adviser appointed by the commissioner to assist with accommodation issues.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert and member of Ontario’s vaccine task force, says the league’s mandate makes sense.

“I know how concerning vaccine mandates can be, but when you take a step back and look at what hockey entails … it’s more than protecting the individual player. It’s protecting people. And hockey is a risk for the spread of COVID-19.

“You’re in a locker room, and they are contained and typically poorly ventilated. You see players exercising, it’s indoors, and there’s going to be heavier breathing involved with all-out exercise. If you don’t want your league to be interrupted by a pandemic outbreak, then you look for as much protection as possible.”

Bogoch adds that while there have been concerns about myocarditis, a heart condition, in relation to the vaccine in the age group of OHL players, COVID-19 is a much greater risk. He says that with new variants still spreading, it “only makes sense to have a vaccine mandate … to protect everyone.”

The Oshawa Generals say they’re fully on board with the OHL’s vaccine mandate.

Hunt said the Generals spread the word last week and expect full buy-in by Aug. 16, two weeks before camp opens.

“Our staff is 100 per cent vaccinated,” Hunt said. “… I think there is still the potential that people can get the virus, but the goal is to make everyone as safe as possible. If we can do that, then we can get to as normal a hockey life as possible.”

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