Under an updated Terms of Reference, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table has been renamed the Ontario Public Health Emergencies Science Advisory Committee (OPHESAC).
The new group is set to be comprised of “independent, multi-disciplinary experts whose role is to enhance provincial capacity to respond to a spectrum of public health emergencies with the best available evidence.”
Like the Science Advisory Table, the new OPHESAC will advise Public Health Ontario (PHO), and “where appropriate through PHO to Ministry of Health, to inform the management of public health emergencies, including COVID-19.”
According to the press release,
Operating under the new name — The Ontario Public Health Emergencies Science Advisory Committee (OPHESAC) — the updated Terms of Reference establish a mandate which reflects a long-term, sustainable approach that ensure the provision of credible and independent scientific and technical public health advice to the province on COVID-19 and future public health emergencies.
The updated Terms of Reference describe the future functioning of OPHESAC, including its updated mandate “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 PHO, and where appropriate through PHO to the Ministry of Health, to inform the management of public health emergencies consistent with PHO’s mission, vision, mandate, and values.” A copy of the full Terms of Reference can be found on the OPHESAC webpage.
All OPHESAC resources will be made publicly available on this webpage.
One of the “core components” of OPHESAC's focus will be on “health equity”:
Health equity is a core component of OPHESAC scientific advice, consistent with PHO’s legislated objects. Populations which may be disproportionately affected by public health emergencies2 will be
considered and addressed in OPHESAC scientific advice.
[These populations may be adversely affected due to inequities such as social determinants of health including Indigeneity, race, gender, income or immigration status; and/or may be more likely to be exposed to a public health threat, more likely to experience a serious impact because of exposure, less likely to access or benefit from public health measures or treatment and/or who may be negatively affected by response and recovery measures.]
As a transparency measure, OPHESAC "may" publicly post conflict of interest disclosures, which "may" be available on request.
All members will complete written conflict of interest disclosures prior to beginning their term as a member of OPHESAC and before the first committee meeting. This form must be updated, as requested by PHO, and as members identify relevant conflicts of interest. Conflict of interest information may be made available on the PHO website and on request.
According to a document dating back to September 2020, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario hired David Fisman, currently a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health, to present expert testimony on school reopenings, while he also served as a member of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
A statement from Premier Doug Ford's office described the situation as “deeply concerning.”