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B.C. keeping vaccine mandates for public servants, health-care workers

B.C. health minister sees need to maintain vaccine mandate to protect both public and workers.
About 190,000 health-care workers were required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 under a provincial health order. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

B.C. is sticking with its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public servants and health-care workers, even though the federal government has suspended its two-shot requirement for federally regulated workers and travellers.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said he continues to support both last year’s provincial health order requiring all health-care workers in hospitals, long-term care homes and community health centres to be vaccinated, as well as the order in council that made vaccinations a condition of employment for public service employees.

“I wouldn’t expect any change in mandates anytime soon,” Dix said in an interview Monday.

B.C. Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon last week called on the B.C. government to follow Ottawa’s lead to suspend the vaccine requirements for provincial employees and health-care workers.

“British Columbia is out of step with the rest of the country in this regard,” said Falcon. “We’ve got a situation now that just warrants the immediate lifting of the vaccine mandate.”

Falcon said the vaccine requirement is worsening the critical shortage of health-care workers that has seen the temporary closing of emergency rooms in rural communities on the Island as well as in the northern and Interior health authorities.

About 190,000 health-care workers — including about 50,000 in long-term care — were required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 under a provincial health order. About 99 per cent were vaccinated and the rest lost their jobs for not doing so.

The B.C. Public Service Agency required its 30,000 employees to be fully vaccinated. As of April 20, it said, 402 employees were either unvaccinated or refused to disclose their vaccination status as required under the COVID-19 vaccination policy, and about 150 had lost their jobs.

The agency said Monday that its vaccination policy remains in place, with almost 99% of employees fully vaccinated. “As the pandemic is not over, and its trajectory remains uncertain, the B.C. Public Service believes it prudent to retain the vaccination policy.”

Falcon said about 2,500 health-care workers and other public service employees are sidelined “at a time when the health-care system is, to use the premier’s own words, crumbling and teetering.”

Dix said the federal government seems to want to overturn both vaccine mandates, “but I disagree with them.”

The health minister said the problem is not the mandates but COVID-19, which continues to profoundly affect the health-care system. He said there is ongoing need to protect residents of long-term care and assisted living, as well as patients in acute-care settings and the larger health-care system.

Last week, about 15,600 health care workers were off sick from work at least one day — including “a significant number” on Vancouver Island — compared with the average pre-COVID number of 8,000 off work sick, said Dix. It’s not known how many of those sick days were related to COVID.

Vaccinations protect people in the workplace and health-care system from the serious harms of infection, Dix said.

The province continues to offer fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccine to those deemed clinically extremely vulnerable and to people over age 70, six months following their third dose.

Among those age 70 and older, 94 per cent have received their first dose, about 92 per cent a second dose and 82 per cent a third dose. About 50 per cent, or 290,000, have received a fourth dose.

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