5 Dec 2023

Since the launch of the Ontario Public Health Emergencies Science Advisory Committee (OPHESAC) in the fall of 2022, the Committee has been actively working in two key priority areas (health impacts of heat and respiratory virus surveillance). This work has resulted in the release of a number of knowledge products that provided recommendations on these topics of critical importance.

OPHESAC’s mandate is “to enhance provincial capacity to respond to a spectrum of public health emergencies with the best available evidence OPHESAC will provide independent scientific advice to Public Health Ontario and where appropriate through PHO to Ministry of Health to inform the management of public health emergencies consistent with PHO’s mission, vision, mandate, and values.” 

PHO is committed to supporting OPHESAC to fulfill its mandate as we maintain readiness between emergencies and with the ability to rapidly scale-up activities during emergencies. This is consistent with the need for OPHESAC to pivot to a reduced level of activity that the Terms of Reference describes when not in a public health emergency.

The Terms of Reference says, “When not in a public health emergency, OPHESAC will continue to operate on a less frequent basis to provide advice on lessons learned during previous emergencies and to provide scientific advice to mitigate and prepare for threats that may become public health emergencies in the future.”

Another contributing factor to this shift in approach is the reduction of COVID-19 specific funding for PHO this current fiscal year and the elimination of it in future years. PHO recognizes the value of this committee and has realigned internal resources to support a smaller “between emergencies” secretariat. 

None of these changes are a reflection on the quality of work or level of dedication and engagement from members and secretariat staff. OPHESAC has done excellent work to-date and we are confident that OPHESAC will be well positioned to provide high quality and timely scientific advice in the event of future public health emergencies. 

As a next immediate step, members will provide input on how OPHESAC can be most impactful as they transition to a “between emergencies” level of activity.

To continue to advance the committee’s work, PHO will be seeking OPHESAC’s input on the provincial Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA). We believe the diverse expertise of OPHESAC members will provide perspective on significant gaps and risks for Ontarians. Input will be used to inform PHO’s work planning as well as the Committee’s work. 

PHO has also asked the committee to provide recommendations on the following topics over the next 12-18 months:

  • Best practices for structured networks of scientific expertise to prepare for and draw on between and during emergencies; and
  • Best practices for community engagement during emergencies.

PHO will also continue to engage with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health on their questions for the committee.

We would like to reiterate our thanks to all OPHESAC members and secretariat staff for their valuable contributions to emergency preparedness in Ontario.

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Updated 5 Dec 2023