A provincial order that all workers be fully vaccinated to keep their jobs at hospitals and other health-care facilities is “essential” for the safety of patients and staff, even if it means vaccine-hesitant workers lose their jobs, says B.C.’s health minister.
“We’re preparing for the circumstances that may exist if some people choose not to be vaccinated and choose effectively not to continue in their jobs,” Adrian Dix told a new conference on Tuesday.
He said the decision by B.C.’s public health officials to make vaccination a condition of employment for those workers as of Oct. 26 is “the right direction” to take, even if it means some workers may choose to quit their jobs rather than be vaccinated. The province had previously announced workers in long-term care homes and other senior residences would have to be vaccinated by Oct. 12.
B.C. is facing a shortage of nurses and other health-care professionals. The B.C. Nurses’ Union, long-term care home operators and others are warning the new vaccine order could drive away employees.
The BCNU has said it supports vaccination and encourages members to get immunized, but opposes a mandatory policy because it may mean nurses quit. It didn’t respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Dix said there are about 49,000 affected workers in the health-care system. About 79 per cent of British Columbians overall are doubly vaccinated, meaning about 6,000 health-care workers remain unvaccinated assuming the same proportions apply.
But Dix estimated the percentage of vaccinated health-care workers is “significantly higher” than the general population because they know the risks of not being vaccinated.
Despite fears that health-care delivery will be further strapped by a loss of all or some of those workers, Dix said there is no question they will need to be immunized “given the seriousness of COVID-19” on the health-care system.
He said outbreaks at health facilities sent many sick or affected staff home, “all of which had a profound effect on the delivery of care.”
“We’ve seen this for months and months and months,” he said. “So the reason we’re taking this step is to support and protect the health-care system and all of those in it. Health-care workers know absolutely the importance of immunization. It’s essential.”
But, he said, “We’re going to have to prepare for circumstances should people leave certain positions.”
He said the province will work with the BCNU, the Hospital Employees’ Union, lab employees, doctors, paramedics and midwives to ensure they are all vaccinated. He wouldn’t reveal any further details.
The Health Employees Union will make decisions on possible grievances based on the details of each case, said spokesman Mike Old in an email.
“We continue to press the Ministry of Health and health employers for alternatives for unvaccinated workers, including redeployment, leaves of absence, and other measures short of dismissal,” he said. “It’s in the interests of our health-care system over the long-term to do what we can to protect the public’s investment in a skilled and experienced workforce.”
He said the membership is “highly vaccinated.”
A blog by Forte Law, a B.C. firm that specializes in employment law for non-union workplaces, said “refusing a vaccine (in a non-union shop) is unlikely to be accepted as just cause for termination, which means severance pay would be owed. In a unionized environment, this is even more complex as workers can generally only be fired for just cause.”
It also said, “A blanket approach for all non-vaccinated workers is bound to fail. There is a group of people who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons or due to their religious beliefs. Firing a worker who is in this category could be the basis for a human rights complaint.”