2,452 B.C. health-care workers fired for not getting COVID vaccination

Thousands of B.C. health-care employees have been fired for not getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Across the province, approximately 2,452 employees have been terminated “due to non-compliance with the provincial health officer’s order on mandatory vaccinations,” according to the Ministry of Health. This represents less than two per cent of the total workforce.

Broken down by health authority, it includes 895 terminations in Interior Health, 458 in Fraser Health, 341 in Island Health, 291 in Northern Health, and 224 in Vancouver Coastal. Other terminations include 231 from the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), and 12 from Providence Health Care, a Catholic health care provider with several facilities in Vancouver.

However, the number is likely much higher because the data from Fraser Health, Island Health, and Northern Health does not include medical staff or physicians.

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The numbers do not necessarily include all types of health-care workers, as some professions still have until March 24 to get at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, unless they are medically exempt.

Those working in acute care and long-term care are already required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but the province announced in the fall that the requirement would be updated to include all regulated health-care workers, including dentists, acupuncturists, pharmacists, physio, midwives, and chiropractors.

On Nov. 9, the province said 3,071 health-care workers were on unpaid leave because they were not fully vaccinated. Staff were warned that if they still did not receive their shots after a period of leave, they would be terminated.

Despite the number making up only a small percentage of the health care workforce, any impacts on staffing levels are likely to have impacts on an already strained system and burnt-out workers.

Stories of overworked staff and long patient wait times have populated the news cycle in B.C., particularly early in the New Year at the height of the Omicron variant wave. The wave has since peaked and seen a steady decline.

Last month, a Victoria woman said the Omicron wave and related staffing shortages had gotten so bad, families like hers were called in to feed their loved ones.

Earlier this month, the Council of the Federation of Canada’s Premiers, of which B.C. Premier John Horgan is the chair, urged Ottawa to invest more in the country’s stressed-out health-care system, which has been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. It called on the federal government to boost its share of funding from 22 per cent to 35 per cent.

A recent Leger Report surveyed Canadians and found many feel health care has deteriorated over the last five years. Nearly 80 per cent said the pandemic has strained the system by increasing wait times, backlogs for surgery and other procedures and staffing shortages because of burnout.

Last Thursday the province lifted most capacity restrictions for venues, events, and businesses as part of a phased reopening. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs no longer have table limits, and guests can mingle and dance. Patrons are still be required to mask up, even while dancing, and show proof of vaccination.

Restrictions remain at long-term care and seniors’ assisted living facilities, as they do for around capacity limits for worship services.

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