Relief, some questions about B.C.’s mandatory vaccine for health care workers


VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The province’s announcement Monday that health care workers will have to be immunized against COVID-19 did not come as a surprise to those working in the sector — still, some questions remain.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said proof of vaccination will be required for workers, volunteers are contractors in acute and community care as of Oct. 26. This announcement follows a similar mandate for workers in long-term care and assisted living last month.

RELATED: B.C. mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for long-term care workers

It’s something Doctors of BC has been pushing for, and comes as a relief for president Dr. Matthew Chow.

“Today’s announcement is welcome,” he says. “We’re really pleased to see that this now extends to all health authority facilities, in both the hospital and community sectors.”

Chow says the organization — whose members are 97 per cent vaccinated — have demonstrated their faith in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

“We do feel that it will increase the level of safety in our health care facilities. There have been documented instances where unvaccinated staff have triggered outbreaks,” he explains.

“And of course, we as health care workers, deal with vulnerable individuals — people that are very ill people that are elderly, people that are immunocompromised, people who are on medications that compromise their immune system, and also young children who are too young to be vaccinated — any measures that can be taken that increase our mutual safety, including mandatory vaccinations, is welcome.”

The organization would also like to see mandatory vaccines in schools, and childcare settings, saying increasing overall rates is key to protecting people heading into the fall and winter.

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The President of the BCGEU (BC General Employees’ Union) which represents about 23,000 workers in health care, says the details of the new order are not completely clear.

“We know that it is expanding to community health, where we have members, health science professionals we represent members in that sector as well. We have members in mental health and addictions, in supportive housing. Many, many of our members will be affected by the new order,” Stephanie Smith says.

“Which workers will be covered by these new expanded orders? If there is a legitimate exemption request, how will that be processed and what accommodations will be made for members who may have those legitimate exemptions? And I know our members are going to have a lot of questions too. How does this impact my work? What does this mean for me?”

Smith says the expansion of the mandate follows a pattern that has become familiar, where restrictions are first introduced at long-term care homes, where people are most vulnerable to serious illness and death, and gradually expanded. And she says she wouldn’t be surprised if more of her members are impacted in the future in setting like group homes for adults with developmental disabilities, provincial correctional institutions, and community social services.

Until the order takes effect, Smith says the union will focus on getting members the information they need, and making sure those who have grounds for an exemption are accommodated.

“The frustrating piece for our members, and something that I certainly hear from membership is — clarity. The more clear these orders are the far easier it is for people to follow them, and to make sure they’re in compliance,” she says.

“Our responsibility will be to make sure that we’re supporting our members as we go through this process.”

Meantime, Terry Lake the CEO of BC Care Providers’ Association, welcomes the new mandate.

“By providing a level playing field across these parts of the health care system, we can reduce much of the uncertainty operators and employees were facing under the previous order,” he writes in a statement.

“At BCCPA we are fully supportive of mandatory vaccination as a measure to keep the public safe and our health care system functioning well.”

With files from Tarnjit Parmar

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