Getting It Right: Vaccine Policies in Dentistry

by Gary Glassman, DDS, FRCD(C); Julian Perez, J.D., SVP

On September 20, 2021, the RCDSO (Ontario’s dental regulator) encouraged all dentists to “support vaccination efforts, model responsible behaviour … and address vaccine hesitancy.” Other provincial dental regulators have recommended that all dentists and dental health care professionals get vaccinated against COVID-19 and, in PEI, the dental regulator went so far as to mandate vaccination. Concurrently, public health authorities have published statements “strongly recommend[ing]” that “employers enact a COVID-19 workplace vaccination policy to protect employees and customers from COVID-19 and the Delta variant.”

Through the late summer and early fall, we wrestled with whether and how to implement vaccine policies. Questions like, “Are vaccine policies legal?” and “Can we afford to lose an unvaccinated team member?” dominated discussions. With new variants emerging as fast as the public can learn the Greek alphabet, the management of COVID-19 will remain a priority for months (and even years) to come. This fall, we implemented a vaccination policy across our dentalcorp network. I’d like to share a few of the lessons we have learned.

Vaccine policies do not have to be all or nothing. In our experience, a flexible policy can accomplish many of the same objectives, but allow you to work with team members who cannot or choose not to get vaccinated. Offering periodic COVID-19 testing to team members is a very effective way of reducing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in your clinic. Other options include asking the unvaccinated to wear heightened PPE, avoid indoor office social gatherings or abide by certain COVID-19 safety measures that may have been dropped by regulatory authorities. Leave wiggle room to dial up or dial down your policy as local risk indicators rise and fall.

Vaccine policies supplement existing COVID-19 safety protocols. The appropriate use of PPE, good ventilation and air filtration, physical distancing and, above all, effective screening of team members and staff remain critical to preventing transmission of respiratory infections. Continue to follow the current public health guidelines and recommendations of local dental regulatory authorities. The view that other COVID-19 safety measures can be eliminated once the team is fully vaccinated can lead to unhappy surprises.

Fully vaccinated employees can get COVID-19. Don’t shoot the messenger, but in an office where 19 people are fully vaccinated and one person is not, it’s just as likely that a vaccinated team member tests positive as an unvaccinated one. Breakthrough infections tend to be less severe; however, people with a breakthrough infection can still spread the virus. Further, those who are immunocompromised may not always build adequate levels of protection after a COVID-19 vaccine series. Regardless of vaccine status, those with common symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend the office and should get tested.

Make vaccine policies about safety, not politics. Vaccination remains a difficult topic of conversation. Vaccine status is personal health information and must be handled as such. In offices where there is only one or a few unvaccinated team members, those individuals may feel targeted by the implementation of a vaccine policy. Putting a vaccine policy in place is about being safe and preventing illness; it’ not about isolating anyone. Regardless of how strict your policy is, respect the dignity of everyone.

About the Authors

Gary Glassman, DDS, FRCD(C), Chief Dental Officer, dentalcorp





Julian PerezJulian Perez, J.D., SVP, Risk Management & Compliance, dentalcorp