The B.C. government is facing increasing pressure to institute a mandatory vaccination policy for health-care workers.
Several major European countries, including France, Italy and Greece have already implemented the requirement, and some leading Canadian health-care organizations are calling on Canadian jurisdictions to follow suit.
Both the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association are pressing for the measure.
“I think it’s always challenging for govts to make these decisions, but I think our jobs as leaders in healthcare is to sometimes make difficult decision and lead with science,” Dr. Katherine Smart, president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, told Global News.
“And I think the science is clear, these vaccines are incredibly safe.”
The vaccines have also proven highly effective. Between June 15 and July 15 in British Columbia, 96 per cent of COVID-19 cases were among people who were not fully vaccinated. Seventy-eight per cent were among people who were completely unvaccinated.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has not a vaccine mandate for health-care workers out, but says the province is still examining the issue.
“We are still absolutely talking through with all of the stakeholders, particularly in long-term care. We know how devastating this virus can be, even if residents themselves are highly vaccinated,” she said Wedensday.
“Absolutely everybody who works in long-term care must be vaccinated and that’s something that we’re working on right now. And we have a number of policies and orders that are in place that will be coming into place in the next few weeks before September.”
Employment lawyer Lluc Cerda with Vancouver firm Samfiru Tumarkin LLC said the government already has the tools to implement a vaccine mandate in the short term.
He said such a policy could face a constitutional challenge down the road, but that the government likely would have a strong argument in court.
“They’ll have to show that the goal being pursued is important. And it’s just more important of course in a healthcare department where you have people in hospital that can’t get the vaccine, sick children, maternity wards that can’t get the vaccine and you don’t want it spreading around in there,” he said.
“There’s definitely a very important policy goal to achieve here that might not be so important, for instance than somebody who works from home.”
While some national medical organizations are pushing for the policy, the B.C. Nurses Union says it “strongly supports” vaccination for its members, but that it still believes “education and accurate information” is the best approach.
The union adds that should the province bring in a mandatory vaccine order, its members should obey it.
As of Wednesday, 67.9 per cent of eligible British Columbians — 61.1 per cent of B.C.’s entire population has been vaccinated.
Smart says given the arrival of the fourth wave and plateauing vaccination numbers, vulnerable patients in health-care facilities shouldn’t be waiting to be protected.
“We do know there are pockets where the levels of vaccine are not optimal, and what we need is for that to change,” she said.