Former BCNU president ‘saddened’ by union’s opposition to vaccine mandate


VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — The past president of the BC Nurses’ Union is speaking out in favour of mandating health workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, despite the union’s current stance that it does not support the order.

Current vice-president Aman Grewal has cited “20 per cent” of workers who are choosing not to get the shot. Grewal said some are reluctant because they are pregnant, family planning or breastfeeding, which a doctor who specialized in fertility has said is concerning, as it “confuses patients.” Others, Grewal said, are concerned over vaccine safety.

“There are those who are not comfortable with the vaccine. They say they have read the science, but they are not satisfied with the science that is out,” Grewal said. She added, “long-term effects have not been determined yet because this is such a new situation that we are faced with.”

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Gayle Duteil, who served as BCNU president from 2014 to 2019, says she’s “saddened” to hear these statements coming from nurses, adding she thinks the rate of unvaccinated nurses is less than 10 per cent.

“I know that the vast majority of nurses want vaccinated colleagues. The vast majority of nurses are likely vaccinated. But there are some holdouts,” Duteil said, adding it’s difficult for vaccinated nurses to work alongside those refusing to get immunized.

During Duteil’s tenure as president, the union also took the province to court in opposition to mandatory flu vaccines.

But Duteil says it’s a mistake to take the same position when it comes to COVID-19.

“This is different. We are in a pandemic and bold steps must be taken,” she says.

“It’s not just rowing the boat straight ahead as if things don’t change — it is all hands on deck. It is frustrating, but I know the nurses out there, and I know that the vast majority of them are vaccinated, and will continue to get vaccinated. There some that are very, very dedicated to no vaccinations, there’s no question, just like in the general community. But they are the very small minority.”

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Earlier this week, Grewal said all members are encouraged to get the vaccine, but the mandate comes amid a dire staffing crisis.

“The union is not in a position to support an order which will serve to remove even a single nurse or other health care worker from the health care system at a time of severe crisis. It’s just not something that we can do.”

Duteil says there’s no question that there is a shortage of nurses, but doubts many will actually resign over this health order.

“I don’t believe that nurses will put their jobs in jeopardy. They can ask for accommodation if their medical or religious needs meet that accommodation, but I don’t think that you will see an overwhelming resignation.”

Noting the issue of vaccines is loaded, Duteil thinks requiring health care workers to get the shot is the best course of action.

“It’s a divisive issue. It’s dividing families, it is dividing, some sections of the community, and clearly it’s dividing some nurses,” she says.

“But in the end, this is a global pandemic, and we have to do whatever we can to look after each other.”

RELATED: ‘They should be ashamed of themselves’: Protesters target B.C. hospitals disrupting patients, staff

Although she was ousted as president in 2018, Duteil remains an active member of the union and is still a registered nurse living in Osoyoos.

Her final comments were reserved for those organizing and attending anti-vaccine protests at hospitals.

“Find something else to do, because that is not necessary, not respectful, and really demoralizing for the staff,” she says.

“If you’re anti-vaxx protester in front of the hospital — get your butt out of there.”

With files from Claire Fenton

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