5,500+ unvaccinated B.C. health-care workers could soon be out of work

Doctor

With just one week to go before B.C.'s broader COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health-care workers comes into effect, about 5,500 employees have yet to receive their first dose.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said that number doesn't include unvaccinated workers from long-term care homes and assisted living facilities, who were forced from their jobs on Oct. 12 when the province imposed its mandate in those settings.

Those who are waiting for a medical exemption claim to be assessed have been allowed to remain at work under additional precautions.

The 5,512 workers from hospitals and other health-care settings who remain unvaccinated – and who represent four percent of the 129,924 employees facing the expanded mandate – have until Oct. 26 to get their first dose to avoid facing the same consequences.

"We're hopeful, of course, that people will move to get vaccinated and comply with the upcoming order," Dix said.

According to the public health order implementing the mandate, employees who only have one dose can continue working as long as they take certain precautions, and get their second dose between 28 and 35 days after their first.

Workers who fail to meet the Oct. 26 deadline will have until Nov. 15 to get their first dose, and won't be able to return to their jobs until seven days after the shot. They also have to get their second within 35 days.

A full 93 per cent of health-care workers employed outside of the long-term care and assisted living system – or 121,048 people – are already fully vaccinated, and another three per cent have had their first shot.

"Essentially what we're seeing with the 96 per cent mark is a very similar number to what we saw in assisted living and in long-term care," Dix noted.

On Wednesday, the health minister said the province is working with hospitals and facilities to mitigate potential staffing shortages created by the mandate. He also pointed out that COVID-19 outbreaks can be disruptive to staffing levels.

"When people are off sick from COVID-19 or as contacts of COVID-19, it affects staffing in hospitals as well and continues to do so. So this measure is necessary," he said.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dix have both acknowledged that health-care staff are stressed, and in many cases, stretched to the limits.

Dozens of patients from Northern Health have had to be airlifted to other parts of the province as cases and hospitalizations soar in that region. Experts blame the low levels of immunization in the north.

According to officials, the region with the highest number of unvaccinated health-care workers is Interior Health (seven per cent), followed by Northern Health (six per cent) and Island Health (five per cent).

The mandate doesn't apply to the First Nations Health Authority.

When the vaccine mandate for long-term care and assisted living took effect last week, 1,955 of the 48,879 affected workers across B.C. were unvaccinated, including a number of casual employees.

If they decide to get vaccinated, they are also welcome to return to work under similar conditions.

Long-term care homes and assisted living facilities were the first subjected to the mandate because of the deadly consequences seen this year during the resurgence of COVID-19 outbreaks, blamed in part on the highly contagious Delta variant.

Officials have noted the bodies of vulnerable seniors and others in care are sometimes less capable of mounting a strong antibody response after vaccination.

"We know these are settings where transmission causes strain on the system if health-care workers are infected, but also can mean transmission to those who are most vulnerable to severe illness," Henry said last week.

"Few know better than those working in long-term care and assisted living what the impact of COVID-19 has been on our seniors and elders," Henry said last week.

 

with files from CTV News