COVID-19: N.S. party leaders say no to mandatory vaccines for teachers, health care workers

Public sector workers in Nova Scotia, including teachers, health care workers and long-term care workers won’t have to get vaccinated against COVID-19, no matter who wins the provincial election later this month.

In a series of interviews ahead of the Aug. 17 election, the leaders of the Progressive Conservatives, the Liberals, and the NDP said they would not mandate vaccinations for people who work in health care, long-term care, or public schools in Nova Scotia, even as jurisdictions across North America deal with a resurgence of the virus driven by the highly-contagious Delta variant spreading primarily among unvaccinated people.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia reports 2 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday

NDP leader Gary Burrill said there are “lots of issues” raised by compulsory vaccinations and that he believes persuasion is a better tactic.

“I accept the reasonability of the position that public health has taken, that we need to work on the basis of persuasion, not on the basis of compulsoriness, and that we will get to a higher percentage of our population vaccinated if we go by that road,” Burrill said.

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On Wednesday, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health care workers.

“As health providers, we have a fundamental duty of care towards our patients and the public,” CMA president Dr. Ann Collins said in a news release.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia election: Party leaders on how they will address COVID-19 moving forward

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“There is significant evidence that vaccines are safe and effective and as health professionals who are leading the vaccination campaigns, it is the right call and an appropriate step.”

The CMA and CNA are also calling on governments and employers to decrease barriers to accessing vaccines and improve vaccine acceptance.

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Iain Rankin said that he believes health care workers are already vaccinated.

“There has to be an ethical consideration with this. People have the right to get vaccinated or not,” he said.

“I do think that health care providers, because they are trained and they have a passion for protecting people’s safety, the vast majority, if not all, would be vaccinated.”

Click to play video: 'N.S. election: PC leader Tim Houston talks health care, vaccines'
N.S. election: PC leader Tim Houston talks health care, vaccines

Political leaders in Canada have largely been unwilling to mandate vaccination.

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Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston said he would defer to public health on the issue.

“I’m certainly not an expert on public health, but I believe I have the confidence to involve those that do. So we’ll have those discussions,” Houston said.

“It’s not for me to say, ‘Well, this is exactly what I would do’ on an issue that’s clearly public health.”

Click to play video: 'N.S. Reaches COVID-19 vaccination milestone'
N.S. Reaches COVID-19 vaccination milestone

Both of the other leaders said they’d follow the guidance of public health, and Rankin suggested Global News ask the chief medical officer of health why COVID-19 vaccines won’t be mandated as a condition of employment.

Dr. Robert Strang was not made available for an interview Wednesday.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the provincial department of health said COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory.

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“It is our expectation that health care workers, long-term care workers, teachers and other leaders in our province will be role models and encourage others to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” the statement said.

As of Wednesday, 76.3 per cent of Nova Scotia’s population has at least one dose of a vaccine, and 64.8 per cent is fully vaccinated. The department of health could not provide data showing how many of the 23.7 per cent who are still unvaccinated are eligible to receive a vaccine.

But vaccine coverage varies greatly by age. A full 95 per cent of people aged 75 to 79 have both doses, while only 48 per cent of those between the ages of 20 and 24 are covered.

All three party leaders say they’re fully vaccinated and they believe vaccination is important.

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