Despite incoming vaccine mandates for workers in B.C.’s health-care system, more than 100 were off work last week because they hadn’t yet had the shots, and had been exposed to COVID-19.
The province’s top doctor said in a news conference Tuesday that these workers had either caught the disease, and were off sick, or had to self-isolate due to exposure.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province is in the process of identifying and reaching out to workers who are not vaccinated and will be affected by an incoming mandate, to give them the opportunity to voice concerns and ask questions.
Vaccination will be mandatory for all workers and volunteers in B.C. health-care facilities starting next month. They’ll be required to have both doses of COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 26, or will be put on unpaid leave.
The policy applies to students, physicians, residents and contractors, as well as those working at contracted facilities used by patients, and at home and community care locations.
She didn’t have exact numbers on Tuesday regarding staff vaccination rates, but the doctor did provide an example of what she said showed the context of the “strain on health-care workers.”
Many have spoken out about short staffing and low morale.
“Part of that strain is health-care workers who are not yet vaccinated becoming ill themselves, or having to be off because they’ve been exposed to somebody who’s ill. As of last week we had over 100 health-care workers who were in isolation, ill with COVID or because they’ve been exposed and weren’t yet vaccinated,” Henry said.
“It is a strain, having this much transmission in our communities, and we as health-care workers being at risk as well.”
She said concerns from those who’ve held back have largely been “important questions,” and ones that the ministry is able to answer for anyone hesitating.
Their hope is that the mandate, coupled with the individual approach and sympathy for co-workers already stretched thin, will convince at least some of those in the industry to get their shots.
Neither she nor Health Minister Adrian Dix gave a specific number of health-care workers who are unvaccinated as of Tuesday’s update, but Dix said about 13 per cent of the eligible general public still haven’t received at least one dose. He said the number of unvaccinated workers is “lower than that.”
Still, Dix backed the decision to go ahead with a mandate, describing these types of workplaces as high risk when it comes to transmission.
He acknowledged the challenges, and said he agrees with concerns raised that the mandate may lead to staffing shortages.
Dix said he’s aware that there are differing opinions, but that he thinks most people in B.C. also agree that health-care workers should be vaccinated, especially in long-term care and assisted living.
Henry added that the rate of vaccination in many groups, including in doctors in B.C. and in those who work in acute care, is “in the high 90s.” It’s a small group, she said, that hasn’t yet been immunized.
Still, that group is having an impact on other workers who are trying to manage the spread, and the increase of patients in hospitals and in need of intensive care.
“Our teams are tired and there’s a moral distress when we see people who are suffering from a preventable illness now,” she said.
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