B.C. expanding vaccine mandate to all health-care facilities next month
Vaccination against COVID-19 will be mandatory for all workers and volunteers at health-care facilities across the province next month, officials announced Monday.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the mandate, which expands on a previously announced vaccination requirement for employees at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities, will take effect on Oct. 26.
"We'll be implementing a new order that makes vaccination against COVID-19 a condition of employment across all health-care facilities in B.C.," Henry said.
"This includes all workers, students, physicians, residents, contractors and volunteers."
The requirement also applies to those working at contracted facilities used by patients, and at home and community care locations. Those who refuse will be put on unpaid leave, Henry said, but there will be accomodations made for the rare individuals who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons.
Workers and volunteers at long-term care homes and assisted living facilities only have until Oct. 12 to get fully vaccinated, meaning they need to have received their first dose before Sept. 14.
Health officials previously cited an increased risk of serious infection and even death among vulnerable residents, whose bodies can be less capable of mounting a strong antibody response even after vaccination, as justification for that policy.
The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has climbed significantly since then, putting a strain on resources and forcing staff to delay hundreds of non-emergency surgeries. Officials said there are 139 coronavirus patients in intensive care as of Monday, 87 per cent of whom are unvaccinated.
"Sadly, choices not to get vaccinated are affecting our families and our communities across the province," Henry said. "Our health-care workers deserve better and so do we, all of us, in British Columbia. It is our shared responsibility to get through this next phase of the pandemic."
Officials also revealed B.C. will be offering third doses of vaccine to about 15,000 people who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable, a policy in line with recommendations shared by the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations last week.
That includes organ transplant recipients and some cancer patients, whose immune systems are also less likely to develop as robust a response to vaccination than the general population.
"For the vast majority of people, a third dose is what we would call a booster," Henry said. "For the people who are immunocompromised, it's a different story."
The announcements came hours after B.C. implemented its vaccine card system, which bars unvaccinated people from a number of non-essential activities such as dining in at restaurants and going to the movies.
Henry acknowledged those who feel frustrated by the policy, and the province's renewed mask mandate, but said it's unacceptable to "take out this frustration on health-care workers."
"We are tired and stretched from this pandemic and we are all working tirelessly regardless of that," she said. "These rules are in place to protect all of us – patients and health-care workers alike – and we need to respect them."